International Volunteering: The Best Study Abroad Option For Pre-Meds

Jul 11, 2023 12:00:00 AM | Pre-Med International Volunteering: The Best Study Abroad Option For Pre-Meds

Studying abroad can be hard as a pre-med student due to a rigorous educational schedule and applying to med school. Here’s the best way to do it!

A Guide: Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad

Studying abroad sounds like a great adventure, but it does have its pros and cons. While it can be an enriching experience, it may not be as attainable or affordable for some people. 

Engaging in volunteer work abroad is an option that can provide a more feasible and rewarding path. Let's explore why this might be the more favorable choice for you.

Is it possible to study abroad as a pre-med student?

Studying abroad as a pre-med student can be a rewarding experience, offering a global perspective on medicine, valuable language skills, and a unique opportunity for personal growth. However, it's not a decision to be made lightly, and careful planning is essential.

Can you study abroad as a premed? Yes, it is certainly possible to study abroad as a pre-med. However, pre-med programs often have curriculums with specific required courses. This can make it more difficult to fit a semester abroad into your academic plan without delaying your progress toward your degree and application to medical school.

For some students, the answer to this concern is to volunteer during a gap year. But there are actually plenty of ways to study abroad during your pre-med years.

Different Ways To Study Abroad During Pre-Med

There are several ways pre-med students can pursue their studies abroad. 

For instance, most university programs offer a semester to a full academic year abroad. There are programs specifically tailored for pre-med students that let you earn credits for your degree while also gaining exposure to global health environments.

These programs can provide valuable opportunities to learn about different healthcare systems, gain cultural sensitivity, and broaden the scope of your medical understanding.

Committing a full year or even a semester can be difficult for pre-meds. That’s why opting for a summer program or a study abroad over a break tends to align better with coursework schedules. 

Volunteering abroad is a great study abroad alternative that combines study with service. This type of experience can give pre-health students an intimate look at what life in the medical field is like. 

Depending on where you volunteer, you may also be able to learn a foreign language like Spanish, which can come in handy for a future health professional.

Before deciding, discuss your plans with your academic advisor or pre-health advisor to ensure that your study abroad experience will align with your pre-med prerequisites and be recognized by your home institution. They can provide you with detailed information and help you navigate any potential hurdles.

We’re the largest student-led movement for global health.

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Benefits Of Studying Abroad By Volunteering

Volunteering abroad as a pre-med student offers a host of potential benefits, both personally and professionally. 

What are the benefits of studying abroad during pre-med? When you choose to be a study abroad volunteer during pre-med, you have the opportunity to gain experience, make a difference in the clinics and hospitals you are working in, and bolster your medical school application with your enriched global awareness.

International volunteering makes an impact beyond the classroom or your personal life. By volunteering with sustainable medical organizations, you can gain new insight about global health that will make you a better medical student and all-around global citizen.

1. Make an Impact

Unlike studying for a fall or spring semester abroad, volunteering can allow you to leave a positive mark on the world. 

Whether volunteering at a clinic or helping build a clean water system, you’ll have an impact on communities around the world. You will be part of something bigger than yourself, contributing value to communities abroad.

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2. Hands-On Learning

Volunteering abroad teaches you things that you could never learn in a classroom. You spend your time learning practical skills while shadowing rotations with professionals in the field. No more staring at a screen all day and drowning in boredom! 

International volunteering gives you the freedom to learn and grow outside the classroom without having to worry about your GPA for a little bit.

3. Gain Unique Experiences

Does study abroad look good on a med school application? Studying abroad absolutely looks good on medical school applications! Volunteering internationally will make you stand out from the crowd, no matter if you’re applying for med school, law school, business school, or even for a job.

Practical experience is something critical that many candidates lack. For medical school admissions committees, it shows commitment, initiative, and an interest in global health, all of which can distinguish you from other applicants.

Community in Ghana performing traditional dance to C Merced and UC Berkley brigade volunteers in May 2019

4. Get To Know a New Country and Culture

If you’re considering studying abroad to gain new cultural experiences, you should consider volunteering internationally for the same reason! 

You’ll be immersed in a new country and culture, and also get to know a different side of that country than you would as an international student. These experiences give you the opportunity to learn from others who have different lifestyles.

5. More Flexibility

Finally, volunteering abroad is more flexible than studying abroad. You can volunteer for shorter periods of time. Some choose one week instead of a whole semester or year, giving them time to focus on their pre-health studies. You can choose when you want to go and plan around important dates, like taking your MCAT. 

When it comes to where to volunteer, you have freedom of choice. You could even volunteer virtually with one of our TeleBrigades programs!

Volunteers from UW Medical Brigade smiling at camera in Panama 2018

6. Personal Growth & Networking 

Volunteering internationally can challenge you in many ways, increase your independence, resilience, and adaptability, and help you develop a clearer understanding of your own goals and values. 

The people you meet there may also be future medical students or medical professionals you can add to your network, leading to meaningful connections and possible future collaborations.

7. Cost-Effective 

Studying abroad can be expensive. If scholarships and financial aid are not available, volunteering abroad is an excellent alternative. 

Global Medical Brigades volunteers do not pay to participate in a Medical Brigade. They instead fundraise to support Global Brigades’ Holistic Model. Additionally, Chapter Leaders often gain a full brigade scholarship in appreciation of their leadership efforts.

What To Look For In the Experience You Choose

If you decide to study or volunteer abroad as a pre-med student, it's important to have a clear understanding of what to expect. There are volunteering abroad pros and cons, just like there are pros and cons to committing to a semester of studying internationally. While every program is unique, here are some things to look for:

  • Academics: If you opt for a study abroad program, make sure the course load to shadowing hours are balanced, leaving you with time to try electives and explore in your free time.
  • Hands-On Experience: Look at the student-to-doctor ratio to ensure that you will have the opportunity to be mentored, gain practical experience, and have a more personalized understanding while learning.
  • Specialties: Look for programs with different specializations. The small group learning and shadowing experience in study abroad programs will let you get to know competitive specialties like neuroscience more thoroughly. 
  • Immersion: Each country may have its own set of customs and languages. The experience in South Africa is going to be different than in Chile or Peru. Although it sounds silly, you’ll want to know if you need to learn a different language (or have to brush up on the Spanish you learned in high school), adjust to new foods, or prepare for a different climate and living conditions.
  • Ethical Considerations: When volunteering, it's important that the work you do is beneficial to the local community and respects local customs and regulations. Programs like ours at Global Medical Brigades emphasize ethical volunteer practices, including training volunteers adequately for the tasks they perform and ensuring that their work meets a real local need.

Study and Volunteer Abroad With Global Medical Brigades

Global Medical Brigades empowers under-resourced communities to meet their health and economic objectives with the involvement of university volunteers and local teams. 

Unlike many other organizations, we have an on-the-ground team that works to improve community health year-round.

We offer short-term volunteering opportunities in Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Ghana, and Greece. Our volunteers are able to tailor their experience to areas of interest to them, like legal volunteering abroad or medical volunteering.

For pre-med students, we offer medical brigades to support the holistic development of the communities in which we partner. 

Check with your university to see if there is a Global Medical Brigades chapter, or take the initiative and start a be a chapter leader! As a chapter leader, you’ll not only gain the study abroad experience, but you’ll show med schools that you have leadership skills and ambition.

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A Guide: Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad

Written By: Giselle Nascimento Dias, Marketing Intern