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Student Objectives and Learning Experiences in a Global Health Elective


International health electives offer unique experiences for medical students to develop clinical skills and cultural competencies in unique and diverse environments. Medical students have been increasingly pursuing these learning opportunities despite the challenges. However, their goals in pursuing these opportunities and the relation between their learning objectives and actual experiences have not been studied adequately. It is important to assess these programs based on student objectives and whether those objectives are met. Thirty-seven medical students from five cohorts at a US medical school completed pre-post questionnaires regarding their global health elective objectives and learning experiences. The questionnaires included mostly open-ended questions and a Likert-scale rating of their overall experience. Qualitative thematic analysis involved inductive coding and followed a content-driven immersion-crystallization approach. Quantitative program evaluation measures yielded descriptive statistics. Five general objectives and four types of learning experiences were identified. Student objectives were: (1) to observe the practice and organization of health care in another country; (2) improve medical/surgical skills; (3) improve language skills; (4) learn about another culture; and (5) deepen knowledge of infectious diseases. All of their objectives were achieved. Moreover, one learning theme, “self-reflection and personal growth,” was not a student objective. Quantitative assessment showed that most students had a favorable elective experience. Program challenges were also identified. Students in a global health elective were able to fulfill self-identified learning objectives, while also gaining other unexpected yet important lessons. Students’ learning objectives also should be considered in evaluating learning experiences in international health electives.

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This study was supported in part by grant 1 D56 HP00171-02 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (Washington, DC) to Dr. Koyfman. The authors would like to thank Dr. Kim Griswold, Dr. Richard Pretorius, Dr. Ray Bissonette, and Mr. Andrew Danzo for their assistance in reviewing this article and Ms. Karen Devlin for her assistance in the preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to David Holmes.

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Holmes, D., Zayas, L.E. & Koyfman, A. Student Objectives and Learning Experiences in a Global Health Elective. J Community Health 37, 927–934 (2012).

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  • Medical education
  • International health electives
  • Oversees medical studies