Deciding to Go || Finding Opportunities || Finding Funding || Planning to Leave || Suggested Timeline

Deciding to Go

Regardless of whether you plan to devote your medical career to global health, international experience is a valuable addition to medical school. Identifying, learning about, and acting to improve inequities in health is challenging. Adjusting to different cultures and understanding local mores can be difficult. However, the learning curve is steep and the issues you grapple with and begin to comprehend will strengthen your practice of medicine wherever, and whatever you choose to do. Though the curious and adventurous will not be disappointed, a certain level of responsibility comes with gaining an educational experience abroad. Resources are often limited, and without careful planning, your experience can be draining for your partner institutions, particularly in developing countries. It is important to set goals, but remain flexible, to plan ahead, but work closely with your partners abroad to ensure an experience that is both enriching for you, and beneficial to the communities involved. Remember, be respectful and humble but secure in your ability to think critically and enact change.

Finding Opportunities

Once you've decided to go abroad, finding a place, and project that fits your interest can be daunting. Especially if you are not sure exactly what you want to do. Our suggestion would be to start by narrowing down your potential interests, to as specific an area as possible. Know what field (neurology, AIDS, etc.), region, and type of experience (basic reasearch, clinical research) you are looking for. It's OK, if it is not related to the field you will enter in the future, as long as it is a genuine interest now. This will help the contacts you establish to know which direction to point you in from there. Below are the resources we found helpful, both here at Penn, and in general:

Possible Resources

  • Talk to Dr. Larson. See Dr. Larson's website for other faculty contacts here: [ link ]
  • If you have a specific area of interest not covered by these resources, try an on-line search for a faculty member with that interest. Often they'll know of international contacts in their field. [ link ]
  • Penn's Research and Fellowship Opportunities page has lots of great opportunities, some with funding. Even the ones not listed as international opportunties, can sometimes be swung to fit your needs: [ link ]
  • Check out AMSA international opportunities - lots of listings, easily searched: [ link ]
  • Look at IFMSA opportunities -- Fewer people at Penn have participated in IFMSA projects, but it appears to be very widely utilized:
    • Penn's GHIG website -- outdated, but student contacts are still available and good souces of advice: [ link ]

Some suggestions from other students

"Explore all the opportunities within the medical school and the university as a whole with a proactive persistent attitude."

"Let everyone know about your plans. It's amazing what contacts random people may have."

Finding Funding

Finding funding was called "the largest roadblock" by one Penn Med student, and likely a lot of students have felt that way. There are a number of grants available through the University that are worth exploring (many listed below). In addition, other schools and departments in Penn, e.g. the Language departments, the African or Asian Health Groups, and the Epidemiology dept. were sited as good sources for other grants. Finally, some students raise money by writing letters to family members, friends, etc. about the work their doing. This could be a suprisingly successful resource if you have a project you really want to get done and aren't finding the other sources of funding sufficient.

Known Funding Sources/Funded Projects for Penn Students

  • Frontline Medicine -- approx. $500; Contact: Dr. Steve Larson
  • Botswana Project - Partially Funded; Contact: Dr. Steve Gluckman
  • Petrus Camper - Partial funding for biomedical research in the Netherlands; Contact: TBA
  • Minority International Research Training Fund -- $4000 plus airfare for travel to work on specifc projects in Belgium, France, Scotland, Ghana, or Japan - Contact: TBA
  • Clinical Neuroscience Tract (if enrolled) -- will cover bulk of expenses for research related to the biological/behavioral aspects of neuroscience; Contact: Dr. Steve Arnold
  • Stoley Award - Full funding given to one student, usually third year for research in the epidemiological sciences; See CCEB website
  • Other (See above): Research Opportunities page, AMSA page, IFMSA page, Student website...

Preparing To Leave

There are lots of things to keep in mind even after you have all of your funding and arrival details set-up. Finidng housing and a plane ticket are one major issue, that will be very dependent on the area you are going to and the type of experience you are comfortable with. Some students favor homestays, others greatly enjoy living around/with students on campus. Those that have had to live in independent housing, sometimes suggest securing something for part of your trip so that if necessary you can look around and change locations once you arrive. These are major projects, that you should probably talk to someone who's been to that area about for the best advice. Other small details to keep in mind, include:

  • Know safety guidlines: CDC website, Country's advisory information, tour guide books...
  • Schedule immunizations early -- at least 6 weeks in advance-- they'll want to do a health exam first, and some immunizations take multiple weeks (e.g. rabies)
  • Start on your visa/passport at least 2 months in advance to allow for adequate turn-around time.
  • Insurance: Repartriation plan offered through the Penn student health plan. Otherwise Council Travel has good options and quick and easy to get (basement of Houston).
  • Buying plane tickets: STA travel, orbitz, hotwire, travlocity, priceline...
  • Subletting/storage: Look at least 1-2 months in advance if you will be hoping to sublet. Useful websites include:,, and the University of Pennsylvania sublet newsgroup
  • Paperwork/credit: Last minute work before you leave -- fill out Dr. Larson/Administration forms on-line for safety/liability. Fill out information with Maria Hernendez, and your summer work will be included on your transcript

Suggested Timeline (For Summer Experience)

August - October Brainstorm: Are you interested? Where would you like to go? What academic interests would you like to pusue? Ask upperclass people about previous experiences. Do some casual web-searching.
October - November Refining Search: Identify a discreet number of potencial projects. Funding may or may not be a major consideration. Some funding sources will not be available until mid-spring. Others will require applications (including recommendations and proposals) as early as December. Keep this in mind while you're looking.
November - March Apply/Beg: Contact faculty members, organizations, etc. Be specific about your interests. Generally speaking, let them know what else your looking into. Apply or prepare materials to apply.
March Thinking about leaving: Hopefully you've heard back from somebody, confirmed your appointment, found funding, and (possibly) informed any other contacts/sources of your decision. In the midst of Repro studying, start thinking about what it's going to take for you to leave:
  • Passport/VISA requirements
  • Read the CDC travel advisory.
  • Schedule a pre-travel health appointment.
  • Find insurance.
  • Post ads if you plan on subletting.
  • Find a news source from your country to follow.

Keep in mind that you may have to spend some time in the library prefecting our knowledge on your research area before you go, as well.

April - May Becoming legal: Shots, Insurance, Shopping, etc... Filling out forms for the office will keep you out of trouble and help you receive credit for your work. You also may have orientations, qualification tests, etc. to do if you're funded and/or becoming a CHOP/HUP employee for the summer.
June - August Experiencing: Yeah! You're out of Philly and even out of the U.S.! Be safe, enjoy yourself and don't forget to take lots of pictures to share with your classmates, us, and next years students when you return.

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