If helping large numbers of people live better, longer, and happier lives is the goal of your career, then public health is one of the best majors for you to pursue. Luckily, since the need for public health professionals is so high, a huge number of public health study abroad opportunities are available for students of all skill levels all over the globe; not to mention there isn’t a single inhabited place on Earth in which public health is not applicable in some way. Since international experience is a crucial piece to getting a job in the field, studying public health abroad will expand both your education and your career.
Why Study Abroad
Studying abroad as part of a public health education can be tremendously beneficial, both individually and professionally. Public health is one of the very few fields that is truly universal. Citizens of every country on every continent will always face some sort of issue that is detrimental to their overall health in some way. Regardless of where your concentration in the field lies, there is almost no area of public health in which learning can’t be beneficially expanded by international experience.
If your interests are in the area of poverty alleviation or maternal and child health, a program in Africa or Southeast Asia would put you right in the heart of the fight, in places where these issues impact the lives of millions every single day. Interested in infectious diseases and their impact on public health? Get yourself to Africa or South America where diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and HIV/AIDS are each killing hundreds of thousands of people every single year.
Even if you are more interested in the policy making side of the field, studying public health abroad can give you a first-hand look at how other nations deal with their own public health issues. The lessons you’ll learn through public health study abroad will easily be applied in your future career, wherever your career happens to take you.
Due to the truly global nature of public health as a field, the exact location of your international experience should be primarily centered around your particular area of interest. However, each region of the world will be dealing with unique issues in public health. Once your area of interest is known, see where in the world that issue is most prevalent and start your search there.
Africa: Considered by many to be the hotbed of public health efforts, African nations (specifically developing sub-Saharan nations) are combating a wide range of health disparities. Topics relating to hunger, maternal and child health, and infectious disease are all open to study abroad in Africa. Also, despite some misconceptions, not all of Africa is rural. Nearly 40 percent of Africa’s population now resides in urban areas, creating numerous ideal locations for public health education and practice.
Asia: The goal of the public health field is to help people and, given that it is home to 60 percent of Earth’s population, there may be no better place in the world to study large scale public health issues than Asia. Poverty is one of the more pressing concerns in the region, which features some of the most populous slums in the world. Disease outbreaks, nutrition, and public health policy are all possible areas of study in Asia, with poverty alleviation a clear major focus.
Europe: One of the “better-off” regions of the world, Europe isn’t your typical public health study abroad location, but opportunities exist in Europe as well. Specifically, programs in public health policy formation and implementation are available, especially in Western and Northern Europe. The World Health Organization has its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, providing for a fantastic Public Health study abroad opportunity in one of the most scenic and well-educated countries in the world. If you are still looking to “get your hands dirty” in the field, Eastern Europe sees its fair share of public health concerns as well, although these are notably different than those in developing countries. Chronic diseases kill an abnormally high number of people in this region (as opposed to infectious diseases), as do problems with drugs and alcohol. If your interest lies in any of these topic areas, then Europe should also be a consideration in your list of possible public health study abroad locations.
Courses & Programs
Due to the incredibly broad spectrum of potential concentrations within the field of public health, the types of courses and programs available are quite varied as well. Of course, there are always the traditional university-based study abroad programs. These public health study abroad programs will provide students with a traditional study abroad experience, typically lasting for an entire semester with a focus on classroom based public health education. Programs like these can typically be found in just about every major country around the world. If you find yourself participating in a program at a university abroad as an undergraduate, consider taking a course concerning the health system of whatever country you are studying abroad in. Most major universities with any kind of health science program will have a class focused on the local health care system, and taking the course as an international student will be a great first step towards understanding the advantages and disadvantages of healthcare and education systems around the world.
While full semesters studying public health abroad are certainly possible, a much more common (and oftentimes more educational) experience can be had in the form of short term volunteering or public health internships, both of which can potentially provide academic credit towards your public health degree. Programs that combine the benefits of hands-on experience with the added bonus of college credit are not only available, but many have been created specifically with public health students in mind.
A sizable number of the programs available are even tailored towards students who may not have an enormous amount of time to devote to overseas study and travel. Summer programs are especially common with courses lasting anywhere from two weeks to a few months and are often focused on a single health issue in a specific country or even within a specific city. These programs allow students to experience the detrimental impact of health problems that they very likely may never see living in a first world nation like the United States, and also provide an opportunity for the students to make a direct impact on the lives of people all over the world.
In order to determine which of these programs is the best fit, it is often recommended that a student consider which area of public health he or she is most interested in, then do some research to find out which organizations or universities are working to combat that issue in various locations around the globe. Chances are good that if the problem is even moderately widespread, there will be ample opportunities for a student to join an organization in the fight against it.
To say that a study abroad experience in public health is beneficial is almost an understatement. Rather, international experience borders on being crucial for any student who wishes to pursue further education in public health. Again, literally every organized group of people on the planet will have some need for the disciplines of public health, making the field a legitimately global effort. In order to continue to advance our understandings of what makes human populations healthy and happy, international collaboration within the public health field will be critical in the future. Due to this, students entering the field with international experience listed on their resume will be highly desired no matter what their particular concentration within the field may be.
More practically, overseas public health volunteer and internship programs provide hands-on experience that simply can’t be taught within the confines of a classroom. The far-reaching impacts of the public health field are never truly realized until one actually sees the policies and techniques discussed in the classroom put into practice in real life, and that is exactly what these types of programs provide. So if you find yourself wanting a career that truly “helps people”, then public health is perfect for you, and a study abroad experience can and should be an integral part of that education.