Background: In recent years, education and training in global health has been the subject of recurring debate in many countries. However, in Germany, there has been no analysis of the educational needs or demands of medical students, or the educational deficits or potential benefits involved in global health education. Our purpose is to analyse international health elective patterns of medical students enrolled at German universities and assess whether or how they prepare for their electives abroad. We examine the exposure of medical students enrolled at German universities to training courses in tropical medicine or global health and assess students' perceived needs and demands for education in global health.
Methods: Cross-sectional study among medical students in Germany including all 36 medical schools during the second half of the year 2007. All registered medical students were eligible to participate in the study. Recruitment occurred via electronic mailing-lists of students' unions. We developed a web-based, semi-structured questionnaire to capture students' international mobility patterns, preparation before electives, destination countries, exposure to and demand for global health learning opportunities.
Results: 1126 online-replies were received and analysed from all registered medical students in Germany (N = 78.067). 33.0% of all respondents (370/1126) declared at least one international health elective and of these, 36.0% (133/370) completed their electives in developing countries. 36.0% (131/363) did not prepare specifically at all, 59.0% (214/363) prepared either by self-study or declared a participation in specific preparation programmes. 87.8% of 5th and 6th year students had never participated in a global health course and 72.6% (209/288) had not completed a course in tropical medicine. 94.0% (861/916) endorsed the idea of introducing global health into medical education.
Conclusion: Students in our sample are highly mobile during their studies. International health electives are common, also in developing countries. Formal preparation beyond self-study is virtually non-existent amongst our sample and the participation rate in courses of tropical medicine or global health is appallingly low. We have identified unmet perceived needs and the demand for more learning opportunities in global health in our sample, urging for reforms to adjust curricula to a globalising world.