FAQs from BUSM I Students

The following FAQs are those typically asked by first-year medical students who are interested in undertaking an IH project during the summer after their first year of medical school. Students with questions may contact Ana Bediako (abediako@bu.edu).

Also see: Timeline for First-Year Medical Students: Undertaking an IH Summer Project.

I. Affiliations and Connections

  • Are there BUSM affiliations that would yield a summer IH project? Through faculty at BUSM, there are many international connections worldwide. Most of these connections are not directly linked to potential projects that are amenable to first-year students. Some of these connections are research based, others are program oriented. Faculty with specific connections can be queried regarding the potential for a student to set up a project (e.g., conduct a survey). Before doing this, the student should take into account the feasibility of conducting work over the summer, the potential for procuring funds, safety, and preparation time during the school year. A database of projects for international health does not exist (as it does for clinical electives).
  • How does a first-year student connect with a BUSM faculty member to find an IH project? The first step is to ask and answer these questions: Why?, Where?, How?, When?. It is important to be realistic about what can be accomplished during a summer that allows for 8-10 weeks of work. Each student should evaluate his/her skills and potential contribution for a project/site (e.g., research skills, fluency in native language), and he/she should learn about what other students have done during a summer. This type of thoughtful self-assessment should be done prior to approaching faculty. For suggestions on faculty members to contact, Dr. Sarfaty is able to make suggestions.

  • Can a first-year medical student coordinate a project with another university? In many instances, ongoing research projects at other institutions will welcome an outside student to join their team over the summer. Students are encouraged to search departments of International Health and Infectious Disease at other institutions to see what work is being done and the potential for an outside student to join a project. In some cases, a student will need to apply for IRB approval at BUMC for a project from an outside university especially if he/she plans to publish his/her work (the Office of Enrichment can help students with this process).

  • Are there BU School of Public Health projects that a medical student can join for a summer project? SPH has over 100 students per year who focus their training on international health. As its first priority, the school has an obligation to place these students in international practicum sites. There are, at times, SPH projects that are advertised as interdisciplinary and seek out medical students to join them. These will be posted on the student mailing lists. A medical student may also consider approaching an individual SPH faculty member about researching a given topic if he/she has the relevant expertise.

II. Funding and Credits

  • What type of funding is there for students to undertake a summer IH project? There are a limited number of scholarships available to first-year medical students via the IH Summer Scholarship. The scholarship helps defray the cost of conducting a research or community health project overseas (for at least 8 weeks). Scholarships are not awarded for experiential learning/clinic shadowing overseas. Students must attend the IH Mini-Course during the academic year to be eligible for funding for the IH Summer Scholarship. There is a small amount of funding that may be used to defray the cost of approved Medical Spanish programs – see IH Summer Scholarship for info. Additionally, there are (a few) external scholarships available for first- year students for IH summer projects (see Funding).

  • For what can a medical student use his/her IH Summer Scholarship? Food, travel? Usually the reimbursement goes towards travel and living expenses. The scholarship is partially awarded prior to departure and the second half is awarded upon successful completion of the project.

  • Can you get credit for a summer project? There is no course credit or grade for these experiences. However, successful completion of a project (and related program requirements) will be noted in the student’s academic file.

III. Types of Programs

  • Are their programs that give students clinical exposure? How hands-on can a student get in an IH setting? There are a multitude of travel/clinic culture experiential learning programs overseas that cater to pre-medical or pre-clinical health professions students. These programs tend to be costly with a focus on travel (e.g., a safari) and do not always have good accountability regarding the cost. In general, there are not many ‘hands on’ programs for first-year students since there is not much that a first-year student can do in a clinical setting other than take blood pressure or hand out medication. The IH Program at BUSM discourages random participation in these types of programs, but we suggest that students seek out programs that are specific to medical students and have a reputable track record (e.g., Child Family Health International, Habitat for Humanity, AMSA, Unite for Sight) or those programs established by other medical schools. See Community Service/Public Health/Service Learning Programs for more suggestions.

  • What language experiences are available? There are a multitude of language immersion programs which involve a home stay and individual language instruction in Spanish speaking countries. Our students have had good experiences in a handful of programs. Note the reputable programs used regularly by our students at First-Year Options; be sure to read student summaries of their experiences at individual sites.

  • Are there language requirements for some IH projects? If you do not speak the language of the country and wish to conduct a survey or work on a community-based project, you will need to find an interpreter or mechanism by which to be involved. Clinical experiences in the fourth year will rarely come with interpreters and you cannot get credit for an elective at an IH site if you do not speak the language.

IV. Where Can You Go?

  • Where can students go to undertake an IH project? Are there any restrictions? Students are encouraged to travel worldwide except to those countries with a Dept. of State travel warning. BUSM will not give credit or support to a medical student in a country where a Dept. of State travel warning is in effect. Any student wishing to undertake a project in a country which already has a warning in place should discuss the feasibility of this with Dr. Sarfaty prior to planning.

  • Is an experience with a local immigrant community equal to an IH experience? Yes, absolutely. Students are encouraged to look at underserved populations in the Greater Boston area. Dr. Sarfaty can help link students to opportunities in a variety of diverse Boston communities.

  • Are their opportunities in industrialized countries as well as developing countries? Students can participate in international electives in both the first and third world internationally. Many medical schools overseas will take direct applications from U.S. medical students without an affiliation in place. In some instances, students have arranged research projects with an international medical school, but this requires a significant amount of advanced planning. NOTE: The IH Summer Scholarship supports medical student projects in developing countries only.

V. Feedback from Other Medical Students

  • What are successes of the past of other medical students who undertook IH projects? Students have successfully joined and completed research projects in Africa, Latin America, India and the Caribbean. See IH Post-Experience Summaries.

  • Does the IH Program have positive and negative feedback about certain programs? There are some language immersion programs which do not have a good reputation and the BUSM IH program tries take them off the list as we learn about them. The more salient issue is that a given program or site does not meet an individual student’s expectations, because their expectations were not clear prior to departure. It is important to evaluate one’s motivations and expectations for a given program prior to departure.

Timeline for First-Year Medical Students: Undertaking an IH Summer Project

  1. Examine motivations for working overseas, define/answer the Why?, Where?, How?, When? questions.

  2. Carefully review resources available through the IH website, GHEC website, IH Post-Experience Summaries, and journals (i.e Lancet, AMSA IH section).

  3. Define the type of project/program you would be most interested in doing, with the understanding that BUSM and external funding is mostly geared toward research-related projects.

  4. Evaluate personal resources and energy level while in school to undertake the planning. Most IH projects require 6 month preparation time at a minimum. Medical Spanish programs are less involved and experiential learning even less so (although programs like Habitat for Humanity may require some fundraising or medicine collection prior to departure).

  5. Seek mentorship (Dr. Sarfaty and/or your Academy Advisor) to review your plan.

  6. Participate in the IH Mini-Course to help you plan and develop your scholarship proposal/summer experience.