5 Benefits of Hospital Internships Abroad

by Chris Seo

If you’re a pre-med or pre-health student in the United States, you probably know that interning at your local hospital can be a beneficial experience. But you might not know that finding a hospital internship abroad can be just as beneficial as a hospital internship in the U.S. In fact, there are several ways in which hospital internships abroad are even more beneficial than a hospital internship in the U.S.

Cityscape of Hungary
Hungary - one of the many Fellowship locations for the Atlantis Fellowship

Whether you’re on track to become a physician, physician assistant, nurse, dentist, physical therapist, or any other health profession where clinical exposure is valued, here are five benefits of hospital internships abroad:

Benefit #1: Determine if the Health Trek is Right for You.

A good hospital internship abroad experience should give you a deeper understanding of your motivations in pursuing a health profession and enhance your confidence in a hospital setting. This will enable you to articulate your passion for healthcare when the time comes (i.e. med school, PA school, etc.).

Beyond having a great experience to talk about in admissions interviews, hospital internships abroad are important for discovering if the health journey is really right for you. Observing a health professional’s day-to-day life will enhance your understanding of the field and improve your self-awareness. 

By gaining exposure to a variety of medical environments one can answer important questions related to their career path. The questions below are a few important questions among many that you should be asking yourself as you consider whether the health field is right for you.

  • How do I respond to the site of blood?
  • Does the smell of sick patients all day bother me?
  • Does patient to physician interaction energize me or am I an introvert that needs to consider something else?
Students shadowing doctors in Greece
Students shadowing doctors in Greece

Benefit #2: Boost your Pre-Med/Pre-Health Resume.

Shadowing a doctor or health professional abroad as an undergraduate can really set your resume apart because it is a tangible indicator of your commitment to a health career. It also demonstrates your desire for a global perspective regarding what it means to be a medical professional, and it indicates that you have some understanding of what you are getting into for a career. 

Additionally, if you’re able to get a hospital internship abroad earlier in your undergraduate career, it can have compound effects. Having this sort of clinical exposure on your resume can open the doors to research opportunities, other clinical experiences, references for letters of recommendation, and mentors.

Benefit #3: More Exposure & Bypass HIPAA.

When Congress passed HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in 1996, it created a number of liability issues for hospitals. Thus, obtaining a hospital internship as an undergraduate in the United States is becoming an increasingly difficult process if you’re not personally connected to someone in the field. If this happens to be one of your primary obstacles in finding a hospital internship, a hospital internship abroad could be your answer. 

Hospitals abroad are not bound by the regulations of HIPAA, so undergraduates who participate in hospital internships abroad have the opportunity to observe a number of health procedures with much more flexibility, since the practicing health professionals don’t have to worry about HIPAA liability. As a result, you will get more exposure to surgeries and other procedures which are legally required to be conducted more privately in the U.S.

Medical students comparing notes
Atlantis Fellows comparing notes

Benefit #4: Broaden your Horizons by Getting Exposure to International Healthcare.

Do you know the key differences between a private healthcare system and a public healthcare system? And do you know how these differences impact the life and task of a health professional?

Hospital internships abroad give you the chance to answer these questions from actual experience. While abroad you have the chance to really observe both the good and bad consequences of differing healthcare models. 

Every health professional is in the business of healing. Helping those in bodily and physical need is the primary task and responsibility of the health professional. However, a health professional’s ability to accomplish this task is heavily influenced by the healthcare model of his/her country. By participating in a hospital internship abroad, you’ll be able to understand “how” a country’s healthcare system impacts a doctor’s practice or hospital.

Hospital internships abroad expose you to another way of practicing medicine, giving you a better understanding of international healthcare and broadening your horizons.

Benefit #5: Improve Your Language Skills.

Learning a new language quickly doesn’t have to require expensive classes or language learning software. By participating in a hospital internship abroad, you have the chance to immerse yourself in the language you are attempting to learn.  

Let’s assume you want to get better at Spanish. Instead of spending two semesters learning Spanish in a classroom, commit to really learning Spanish by finding a hospital internship abroad where Spanish is the mother tongue. Once you’re abroad you can study and practice Spanish daily, watch the local news, listen to it being spoken inside and outside of the hospital, and journal about your experience as much as possible in Spanish. This immersion process will expedite your fluency much faster than studying Spanish in an American classroom for a couple of semesters, and you’ll have much more fun in the process.

Medical students abroad
Atlantis Fellowships Abroad

Hospital internships abroad share many of the benefits of domestic hospital internships. However, domestic hospital internships can be difficult to come by and they cannot give you the global health perspective of an international hospital experience. 

Don’t delay any longer! Start planning for your international hospital internship today.

This article was contributed by Atlantis Project, an intensive university-break program abroad for American pre-meds. Atlantis Fellows experience global health care through hospital shadowing rotations and prepare for medical school apps through reflective hospital observation, volunteering, medical humanities research, and optional MCAT prep.