Educational objectives for international medical electives: a literature review

Acad Med. 2013 Nov;88(11):1778-81. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182a6a7ce.


Purpose: Although most medical schools and residency programs offer international medical electives (IMEs), little guidance on the educational objectives for these rotations exists; thus, the authors reviewed the literature to compile and categorize a comprehensive set of educational objectives for IMEs.

Method: In February and July 2012, the authors searched SciVerse Scopus online, which includes the Embase and MEDLINE databases, using specified terms. From the articles that met their inclusion criteria, they extracted the educational objectives of IMEs and sorted them into preelective, intraelective, and postelective objectives.

Results: The authors identified and reviewed 255 articles, 11 (4%) of which described 22 educational objectives. Among those 22 objectives, 5 (23%), 15 (68%), and 2 (9%) were, respectively, preelective, intraelective, and postelective objectives. Among preelective objectives, only cultural awareness appeared in more than 2 articles (3/11; 27%). Among intraelective objectives, the most commonly defined were enhancing clinical skills and understanding different health care systems (9/11; 82%). Learning to manage diseases rarely seen at home and increasing cultural awareness appeared in nearly half (5/11; 45%) of all articles. Among postelective objectives, reflecting on experiences through a written project was most common (9/11; 82%).

Conclusions: The authors identified 22 educational objectives for IMEs in the published literature, some of which were consistent across institutions. These consistencies, in conjunction with future research, can be used as a framework on which institutions can build their own IME curricula, ultimately helping to ensure that their medical trainees have a meaningful learning experience while abroad.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence
  • Culture
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / organization & administration*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Global Health / education*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Objectives