The Benefits of International Medical Student Electives

A team led by a global health fellow explores the Ghana-Michigan medical school collaborative, a 30-year partnership.

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Author | Jina Sawani

International study students Ghana USA

The University of Michigan Medical School has a long established relationship with Ghana when it comes to medical education.

"Since 2007, our medical school has facilitated a bilateral medical student exchange program between senior medical students here at U-M and universities in Ghana," says Emma Lawrence, M.D., M.S., who is an OBGYN and global women's health fellow at Michigan Medicine. "This exchange was developed to increase opportunities for U-M medical students to participate in international learning experiences and respond to Ghanaian partners who want new experiences at American institutions."

This longstanding partnership inspired Lawrence and a team of U-M researchers to explore the elective experience of Ghana within the context of the Ghana-Michigan collaborative. Their findings were recently published in BMC Medical Education.

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The team identified a total of 58 U-M medical students that completed international electives in Ghana between March of 2006 and June of 2017.

"We analyzed students' post-elective reports that included descriptions of their experiences abroad, as well as highlights, disappointments and assessments regarding whether or not their time abroad had an impact on their own interest in future international work and medicine," says Lawrence.

Nearly 96% of the students stated that they would recommend their international elective experience to future medical students, and when asked if they wanted to engage in more international work in the future, 95% said yes.

Lawrence, who herself participated in electives in Ghana as a medical student and resident, says the "benefits of the international elective experience include building cross-cultural relationships through exposure to different health care environments, hands-on clinical and surgical experiences, and different medical conditions and patient populations."

This exchange was developed to increase opportunities for U-M medical students to participate in international learning experiences and respond to Ghanaian partners who want new experiences at American institutions.
Emma Lawrence, MD

Many of the students also reported that their time in Ghana positively impacted their medical careers by serving as a form of motivation for future international work.  

"Through our study, we also learned that many students experienced the strength of the Ghana-Michigan longitudinal relationship and better understood the importance and role of these sustained partnerships in global health," says Lawrence. "The partnership modeled collaboration and mutual trust, and many students found inspiration for the direction of their own careers."

Overall, Lawrence says that it's important to remember that by embedding clinical rotations within a well-established relationship like the one shared between the U-M Medical School and Ghanaian medical schools, trainees are provided with valuable experiences that ultimately contribute to the sustainability of the collaborative.

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"As we look to the future, the lessons learned from this research can be used to guide the development and improvement of medical student international experiences to develop globally-minded future physicians who engage in ethical and productive ways."

Here are a few anonymous quotes from U-M medical students that were captured within the study:

"The impact of Michigan's partnership with Ghana was evident on a daily basis, and I came away from this experience with a strong belief in the significance of forming long-term sustainable international partnerships."

"It was incredible to see the depth of Michigan's collaborations with obstetrics and gynecology training programs in the country."

"In the past, I've been abroad to volunteer and shadow, but my trip to Ghana truly felt like an exchange, since Ghanaian medical students, residents, and faculty come to Ann Arbor to learn about medical practice at the University of Michigan. As a result, the elective reinforced the idea that as a physician, I will be a lifelong learner, as well as collaborator, not only with my patients, but with the colleagues I meet in the United States and abroad."

Paper cited: "Embedding international medical student electives within a 30-year partnership: The Ghana-Michigan collaboration," BMC Medical Education. DOI: 10.1186/s12909-020-02093-6.

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This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

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