Medicine Work Experience: Abroad

Tamsin Dyer

Tamsin Dyer

Senior Writer at Medic Mind

Work experience can be tricky to find, especially if you live in a more remote area with fewer large hospitals or opportunites. Some students turn to gaining work experience abroad. In some cases can be easier to find and gives you a broader insight to medicine beyond the UK and the NHS.

Note: International work experience for medical school is not an essential part of the application process. Completing it will add to your application, but the vast majority of successful applicants complete all of their work experience in the UK for free. Not having work experience abroad will not put you a disadvantage.

What can I gain from work experience abroad?

By conducting work experience abroad you’ll be able to gain insight into the difference between healthcare in the UK and abroad. Depending on which country you travel to, your experiences and comparison will be different. For example, taking on work experience in a private system such as the USA will lend to discussions about the merits and disadvantages of a publically-funded healthcare system. Whereas travelling to Tanzania to complete work experience may lead to you talk about inequalities in the availability of certain healthcare services and how this impacts the health on an individual and population levels. This is great to include in your personal statement, and gives you plenty of material to reflect on for your interviews.

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How expensive is it?

This is entirely dependant on how you gain your work experience abroad. If you are going through an organisation such as Global Premeds (previously Gap Medics) who organise everything for you, it can be quite pricey.

However, arranging work experience abroad doesn’t need to be this costly. You can do something as simple as contacting a local GP where you are staying on your family holiday to see if you are able to shadow them for an afternoon. This will give you the ability to then write about international work experience in your personal statement, and talk about it at interview too. 

Medicine work experience abroad
You can look abroad for medicine work experience opportunities!

Tamsin’s experience of international work experience

“I spent a week in the Dominican Republic shadowing a general surgeon at a community hospital. I organised this through Gap Medics (now called Global Premeds). The experience was eye-opening due to the lack of technology available within the hospital. It wasn’t just the lack of technology that was shocking, but also the poverty that patients weren’t able to afford antibiotics. This is something that until now I realise I took for granted in the UK with the NHS service, which is free and treatments are used based on medical need, not ability to pay or cost.

One particular patient that sticks in my memory was a male who was in his 40s. He had a diabetic ulcer on his foot. He couldn’t afford the antibiotics he needed, so instead the doctors were packing the wound with sugar. In theory this mechanism works, as the bacteria will uptake the sugar and ultimately will lyse (burst) and die. However, unfortunately this didn’t work. The dead tissue progressed and became very large. Unfortunately it was found that the infection had progressed too far up his leg, so the patient underwent an amputation above the knee. It sticks in my mind, as I wonder if this was preventable if he would have had antibiotics. Perhaps if this patient was in the NHS the outcome would have been different.

Further to this, I was also able to watch the amputation which opened my eyes to how brutal some surgeries can be. The patient was given a spinal block for anaesthetic and was awake for the procedure. Since returning home I have researched the standard procedure in the UK and here patients are administered a general anasethetic. In addition to this patients would receive psychological therapy, physiotherapy and rehabilitation treatments and also in many cases patients receive prosthetics. Yet with the financial issues faced by many of the population of the Dominican Republic, none of this was provided to the patient.

I spoke with the doctor I was shadowing following this case who explained it is a common issue as a high percentage of the population has type 2 diabetes, but are unable to afford medications. The type 2 diabetes is brought about through the general dietary intake, which contains excessive amounts of sugar, as sugar cane is so readily available and grows abundantly within the country. 

The whole experience drew my attention to the crucial differences between the health system in developing nations such as the Dominican Republic and the UK health system. Furthermore this experience illustrated to me how politics and the finances of a country impact so greatly on the medical care available to citizens, as well as how the lack of medical technology and available treatment options leads to poor patient prognosis.” 

Tamsin – 2nd Year medical student at King’s

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    ✈️ How do I get medicine work experience abroad?

    There’s no set way to get medicine work experience abroad. You can use an agent who specialises in placements abroad and is experienced in dealing with hospitals to arrange suitable experiences. Alternatively you can plan your own experience by researching the local area and contacting physicians to see if you’d be able to shadow them for a few days. Don’t forget to look at volunteering projects as this can be a great way to get a more hands-on experience!

    ???? Is international work experience good for medical school?

    If you don’t already have much clinical experience or exposure, volunteering abroad can help give you an insight into a medical career. You’ll be able to demonstrate an understanding of a doctor’s role and get all of the benefits of UK-based shadowing as well as having the opportunity to contrast two different healthcare systems.

    ???? Do I need to volunteer abroad for medical school?

    No. Most successful medical school applicants don’t travel abroad to get their work experience. However, if it can add to your application by providing opportunities that aren’t available to you in the UK. If you like the idea of travelling abroad to gain work experience, it can be very valuable. However ultimately no it is not essential.

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