Critical Reflections on Mental Well-being for Post-Secondary Students Participating in the Field of Global Health

  • Corey McAuliffeEmail author
  • Ross Upshur
  • Daniel W. Sellen
  • Erica Di Ruggiero
Original Article


The ways in which global health students experience trauma/distress while conducting global health fieldwork is understudied. No identifiable literature addresses the risks to students’ mental well-being, although physical wellness checks exist. Importantly, global health practitioners are at greater risk than the general population for moral distress, secondary-traumatic stress disorder, vicarious traumatization, compassion fatigue, burnout, stress, and anxiety. Students face increased risks (e.g., illness, physical safety), especially in respect to their mental well-being. While academic institutions often require pre-departure trainings, research suggests that they are insufficient or ineffective. Challenges are not only limited to before and during one’s placement, but can be intensified after returning home due to concerns about one’s reputation, being perceived as not able to cope, or feeling ethically/morally obliged to continue research that can be re-traumatizing. This paper critically reflects on these knowledge gaps and on how the lack of appropriate resources and supports has ethical and practical implications for students, the wider academic community, and the communities in which they work.


Global health fieldwork Post-secondary students Mental health Distress Trauma Academic institutions 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Data Sharing

This paper is a critical reflection of the literature. Thus, all data used in support of the paper can be found within articles referenced.

Ethics Approval and Consent

The study for which this literature review falls under received ethics approval from the University of Toronto's Institutional Review Board. All data used within this paper reflects available peer reviewed literature.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences, Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Division of Clinical Public Health, Dalla Lana School of Public HealthUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Office of Global Public Health Education & TrainingUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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