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Medical Students in Developing Countries: Some Benefits for Sure but a Mixture of Risks

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DOI: 10.1007/s11606-011-1683-z
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Medical Students in Developing Countries: Some Benefits for Sure but a Mixture of Risks Molly Cooke, MD University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA. J Gen Intern Med 26(5):462–3 DOI: 10.1007/s11606-011-1683-z © The Author(s) 2011. This article is published with open access at O ver the past ten or fifteen years, medical students and, tothe extent that their schedules allow, residents have shown increasing enthusiasm for global work, particularly electives in developing countries. While undoubtedly enrich- ing, these experiences raise a set of diverse concerns. To contribute most effectively in resource-limited settings, U.S. medical learners must understand how to interact with local health care professionals as well as become informed about local circumstances, history and culture. This thoughtful preparation too often is not provided.1 Many students seek out international opportunities on their own, show up, partic- ipate for a while and depart, without much thought for the effort required to orient them and support them in becoming clinically useful or for the void they leave when they go.2 Fortunately, medical schools and residency programs are increasingly taking responsibility for the organization and coordination of these international clinical experiences. Well- designed programs are able to establish a coherent curriculum for visiting learners, serve as a liaison between the home institution and the clinical site, and ensure that visiting learners are contributing and not just occupying space and consuming supervisory attention in their placements. Howev- er, this oversight does not obviate all problems; in fact, medical school and residency programs have had to deal with the kinds of challenges that have been familiar to international service organizations such as the Peace Corps for decades: random and targeted violence against westerners, motor vehicle and other accidents in areas with minimal infrastructure for emergency medical treatment, and

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