Pre-Health Students Can Study Abroad!

Students planning to enter the health professions are strongly encouraged to gain international experience. Pre-health students can and do study abroad in spite of intense academic schedules, preparing for MCATs (or other exams), and applying to medical schools or other professional schools. With careful planning, students who plan to enter the health professions can experience the academic and personal rewards that come from spending a semester or year overseas. Remember, it can much more difficult to live in another country after you graduate!

Studying abroad can help you…

  • Learn science in a different way
  • Broaden your understanding of medicine and healthcare
  • Improve your foreign language skills
  • Become a more well-rounded student
  • Expand your cross-cultural communication and problem-solving skills
  • Prepare to work in an increasingly diverse and international workplace
  • Gain professional contacts
  • Make your medical school applications stand out

When should you go?

Students can go abroad anytime beginning first semester sophomore year. Pre-health students, however, have special considerations:

  • Lower level biology, chemistry and organic chemistry should be taken at a US university, preferably before going abroad.
  • If you plan to attend medical school right after college, consider going abroad before taking the MCAT and beginning the application process.
  • If you are planning on a gap year, your schedule is more flexible and you can go anytime.

Where can I study abroad?

Pre-health students have lots of locations to choose from! The programs listed here are semester-long programs and offer science and/or community health courses.

Some programs offer a range of valuable clinical/field study experience that allow students to observe firsthand the day-to-day roles and lifestyles of healthcare professionals in different cultural settings. These programs give students the unique opportunity to combine coursework with field practice. Coursework is supplemented with health-based volunteering, independent and directed research, and clinical placement rotations. Programs that offer these opportunities are: Botswana, Durban, Cape Town, and London (KCL). Directed research courses in Psychology are offered in Melbourne, Brisbane, and London (UCL).

What courses should I take?

Most pre-health students take upper division science and ‘enrichment’ courses overseas. There is no guarantee that medical schools accept core science coursework taken abroad; if you are considering this option, please contact the medical schools you are interested in applying to before going overseas to ensure that your coursework will be accepted.

Keep in mind that you are not required to take a full load of science courses abroad (indeed, it is not recommended). Since you will be directly enrolling in a university overseas, almost every course offered there is open to you, so think about your other academic interests when choosing a program. Medical schools also require humanities and social science courses, which you are free to take abroad (GEs, Writing, and Diversity requirements must be fulfilled on campus).

Words From an Alum

“My name is Catherine and I am a pre-med senior majoring in Human Biology with a minor in Dance. I spent a semester abroad in Melbourne, Australia at the University of Melbourne. The courses I took abroad for my major were anatomy and physiology. Overall, the main difference between USC academics and that of Australia lies in the weighting of grades. The courses in Australia put much more emphasis on tests (~70%) compared to homework and assignments. Thus, although it was nice to not get swamped with a million assignments, there was more pressure to perform well on assessments. Most of the academic adjusting was, therefore, constantly holding yourself accountable for the material so you don’t have to cram all the lectures into a few nights. Other than that, the rigor is pretty much on par with USC.”

After taking pre-med courses overseas, I’ve learned how to better manage my time, between keeping up with course content and exploring the wonders of Melbourne.

Catherine Do, University of Mebourne (HBIO)

Words From an Advisor

I would recommend for the student to plan ahead and be open to suggestions that all of their advisors may have. Be open to being flexible with their pre-health/premed timeline and consider all options. There is no one exact path to medical school/health professional school.

Edna Martinez, Pre-Health Advisor