Educational effects of international health electives on U.S. and Canadian medical students and residents: a literature review

Acad Med. 2003 Mar;78(3):342-7. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200303000-00023.


Purpose: To evaluate the educational effects of international health electives (IHEs) on participants. IHEs are a popular component of many medical school and residency program curricula, and are reported to provide benefits in knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Method: The authors reviewed all studies reported in Medline and ERIC databases that have assessed the educational effects of IHEs on U.S. and Canadian medical students and residents. Data extracted from eligible studies included type and duration of IHE, details of survey instrument, response rate, comparison group, and outcomes. Seven of the eight eligible studies assessed educational effects on participants using self-reported questionnaires; a single study used an objective measurement of knowledge.

Results: Eight studies involving 522 medical students and 166 residents met inclusion criteria. IHEs appear to be associated with career choices in underserved or primary care settings and recruitment to residency programs. They also appear to have positive effects on participants' clinical skills, certain attitudes, and knowledge of tropical medicine.

Conclusion: IHEs appear to have positive educational influences on participants' knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Furthermore, IHEs may play some role both in recruiting residents and in their choices of careers in primary care and underserved settings. Future directions for research in this field are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Global Health*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Students, Medical*
  • United States