Background and objectives: The present study reviewed the published literature to examine the effects of international health electives (IHEs) on medical student learning and career choice.
Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted to identify key English-language articles on IHEs, using PubMed journal databases for the period 1990--2009. Article inclusion for this review was vetted by a rigorous evaluation of each article's study methods, content, and data quality. Pooled or aggregate information from 11 key articles, including information on type and duration of IHE, study and comparison group characteristics, and measured outcomes such as self-reported changes in cultural competency, clinical skills, and specialty choice, were extracted and summarized.
Results: Findings suggest that having IHE experiences contributed to a more well-rounded training for medical students; students reported being more culturally competent and were more likely to choose a primary care specialty and/or a public service career.
Conclusions: Although IHE experiences appear to have educational benefits, the quality and availability of these electives vary by institution. Barriers to ensuring that students attain a safe and rich experience include the lack of consistent categorical funding, safety concerns when traveling, and limited faculty experience and resources to support and guide students during their rotations abroad.