Illness and risk behaviour in health care students studying abroad

Med Educ. 2015 Jul;49(7):684-91. doi: 10.1111/medu.12753.


Context: The numbers of university students studying abroad increase every year. These students are not tourists as their studies require different types of travel that expose them to different risks. Moreover, health care students (HCSs) may be exposed to even greater risks according to their travel destinations and itineraries. Clearly, research-based pre-travel advice is needed.

Methods: This study reports on a prospective survey conducted from April 2010 to January 2014 of health care and non-health care students from Swedish universities in Umeå, Stockholm and Gothenburg studying abroad.

Results: Of the 393 students included in the study, 85% responded. Over half (55%) were HCSs. Pre-travel health information was received by 79% and information on personal safety by 49% of HCSs. The rate of illness during travel was 52%. Health care students more often travelled to developing regions and were at increased risk for travellers' diarrhoea. One in 10 experienced theft and 3% were involved in traffic accidents. One in five met a new sexual partner during travel and 65% of these practised safe sex. Half of all participants increased their alcohol consumption while abroad; high alcohol consumption was associated with increased risk for being a victim of theft, as well as for meeting a new sexual partner during travel.

Conclusions: University authorities are responsible for the safety and well-being of students studying abroad. This study supplies organisers and students with epidemiological data that will help improve pre-travel preparation and increase student awareness of the potential risks associated with studying abroad.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Education, Professional
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Students* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden
  • Travel*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult