Regardless of your major, living and studying internationally can be valuable to any student, and for premeds studying abroad, the experience can be one of the best things you could ever do during college. The unique, firsthand experience is the perfect way to gain exposure to diverse health practices, learn about different health care beliefs and practices, and importantly, to participate in health care related volunteer projects. As future health care professionals, studying abroad provides an ideal setting to become a well-rounded student with broad and diverse experiences. However, before you get all excited about your international academic stint, there are some important details that you’ll want to learn to have the most successful experience possible. So here are a few valuable things you should know to help you plan your premed studies abroad.
  1. IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START THINKING ABOUT STUDYING ABROAD
    Times are changing as more and more pre-medical students are beginning to realize and exercise their option to study broad. But making plans to study abroad can be little trickier if you are a pre-med student. Early planning is the key to pulling off a successful trip without screwing up your plans forapplying to medical school. So here’s the deal. Begin talking to your pre-medical advisor to determine the best academic schedule that you shouldplan out before going abroad. Chances are there have been several pre-med students who have already participated in study abroad programs and found success in the plan they charted. When consulting your pre-medical advisor, the earlier the better – most successful pre-med students who study abroad meet with their advisor during their freshman or sophomore year.
  2. NOT ALL STUDY ABROAD PROGRAMS ARE CREATED EQUAL
    If you plan on taking courses, regardless of whether or not it is health-related or not, you should first make sure that the course is considered an official study abroad program as defined by the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) – that is if you even intend on entering your credits on your medical school application. In order for AMCAS to consider your foreign coursework, the study abroad program should be sponsored by and credits transferred to a U.S. or Canadian institution. Under the “Study Abroad Coursework” section of the 2013 AMCAS Instruction Manual students can find further details if they participated in a study abroad program or will be including courseworkattempted anywhere other than at an institution in the U.S. or Canada on their application. Furthermore, there are a number of study abroad programs for which AMCAS will only accept credit if successfully transferred to and accepted by a U.S. or Canadian sponsoring institution, including, but not limited to: (CIEE) Council on International Educational Exchange, (CEA) Cultural Experiences Abroad, (IES) International Education of Students, (ISA) International Studies Abroad, and (DIS) Danish Institute for Study Abroad Program.
  3. TAKING THE MCAT ABROAD IS AN OPTION, BUT NOT ENCOURAGED
    The MCAT is administered at 18 locations outside of the United States including, Australia, Hong Kong, Cyprus, France, Germany, Guam, India, Japan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Even if you feel like you are a top-notch student with an airtight study plan and your testtaking skills are strong enough to sit for the MCAT in an international space, do you really want to take that chance? Most medical school admission officers consider an applicant’s MCAT scores to be one of the most important factors in their decision-making process. Your performance on the MCAT is extremely important and you should only take it under the most ideal conditions possible.
  4. MOST MED SCHOOLS DO NOT ACCEPT PRE-MED COURSES TAKEN ABROAD
    While most medical schools recognize the benefits of studying abroad and admission officers like to see applicants who have gain the valuable experience of life outside of the country, they also tend to prefer applicants to complete their medical school prerequisite courses at their home college or university and not through an international program. For required premedical courses including, Introductory Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and General Physics, admission committees may find it challenging to evaluate the coursework offered at various foreign institutions. As a result, most medical schools do not allow applicants to use premedical coursework taken abroad to fulfill the prerequisite course requirement for their programs. Therefore it is not recommended that you take your core prerequisite courses while studying abroad. However, some medical schools do accept science prerequisite courses completed abroad. For example, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine requires students who have completed science prerequisites aboard to submit a course by course evaluation from a national agency to enable the admissions committee to evaluate the coursework and put into U.S. academic equivalents.
  5. POOR PLANNING CAN SABOTAGE YOUR ADMISSION TO SCHOOL
    Circling back to the importance of early planning, when making the decision to study abroad – timing is everything! Let’s say that in your junior year, you decide that you want to join your roommate who is planning a study abroad trip to Hong Kong for the Spring semester. Have you completed your medical school prerequisites? If no, are you okay with finishing your coursework during your senior year? Or, what if you study abroad during your senior year and are not available if invited for medical school interviews back in the U.S.? Most pre-medical advisors highly recommend that in the interest of the medical school admissions process, premed students interested in studying abroad should do so during the summer following their sophomore year. In addition, by planning to study abroad before they begin their junior year, pre-med students should therefore not disrupt their scheduled prerequisite coursework.

This article was published in the January/February 2013 issue of PreMedLife magazine.