Medicine Work Experience: Abroad

Tamsin Dyer

Tamsin Dyer

Senior Writer at Medic Mind

Work experience is very difficult to get, so many students turn to gaining work experience abroad. It is often easier to obtain, and will give you a broad view of medicine beyond the UK and the NHS. 

What will I gain from international work experience:

By conducting work experience abroad, you will be able to gain insight into the difference between healthcare in the UK and abroad. Depending on where you go your comparisons will be different. For example, the difference between the private system in American and the public NHS in the UK, or the poverty seen in Tanzania for example and the NHS which is free at the point of care. This will not only be great to include in your personal statement, but will provide you with a great reflection on world health for your medical school interview.

How expensive is work experience abroad?

This is entirely dependant on how you gain your work experience. If you are going through an organisation such as Global Premeds (previously Gap Medics) where everything is organised for you, then it can be quite pricey. Having said this, they are great programmes, and below you can read a students experience who attended a Gap Medics programme. 

Arranging work experience abroad doesn’t need to be 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. 

Alternatively you could arrange to go travelling and visit hospitals and orphanages on your travels. If you know where you are travelling you can pre-arrange your work experience, or just drop in as you never know your luck. These are all great ways to access work experience abroad with ease and without breaking the bank. 

My experience of work experience abroad:

“I spend a week in the Domincan Republic shadowing a general surgeon at a community hospital, which I organised through Gap Medics (Now 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 who had a diabetic ulcer on the top of his foot. He was too poor to afford the antibiotics he needed, so instead the doctors were packing the wound with sugar. In theory this mechanism works, as the bacteria will eat the sugar and ultimately will lyse (burst) and die. However, this didn’t work, the necrosis (dead tissue) progressed from a small patch on the top of the patients foot to half way up his thigh. I distinctly remember one procedure that the surgeon did in an effort to save the patients leg and foot in cleaning the wound and removing the dead tissue. During this procedure I remember the doctor pulling the tendons of the foot, which were completely exposed by this point as the top layer of flesh was completely gone from the patients foot. Unfortunately it was found that the tendons and muscles in the foot were no longer viable, and the infection had progressed too far up the lower leg, so the patient underwent an amputation above the knee. I have always thought about this as it is simply something that wouldn’t occur in the UK, as high dose antibiotics would have been able to save at least much more of the patients leg than was. Further to this, I was also able to watch the amputation of the patients leg, which opened my eyes to how brutal some surgeries can be. However, that wasn’t the most shocking part of this procedure. The patient was only given a spinal block and was awake for the procedure. Since returning home I have researching the procedure in the UK and patients are administered a general anesthetic in the UK for such a procedure. 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 sought to speak with the doctor I was shadowing following this case and asked about how it makes her feel, as I felt terribly sad that I was unable to help with something that could have been fixed so easily. She spoke about how it was a very common issue seen in the Dominican Republic as such a high percentage of the population has type 2 diabetes, but is too poor to pay for 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 3rd world countries 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 such poor patient prognosis.” 

Tamsin – 2nd Year medical student at King’s

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