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Professionalism and Clinical Volunteering Abroad

Should I do clinical volunteer work abroad?

In recent years, medical schools and dental schools in particular were alarmed by the fact that some applicants had engaged in treatment procedures while volunteering abroad, despite the fact that they did not have adequate training and were not licensed to treat patients. Beware of opportunities to perform invasive treatment procedures (e.g. pulling teeth, drawing blood, and the like) without proper training and licensure, as you might actually do harm. Even if you don’t, this might be viewed as a serious breach of professional ethics. Health professions organizations have responded to these concerns by producing some guidelines for volunteering abroad:

Professionalism: How can I learn more?

Many health professions programs require or strongly recommend a course in something like medical ethics (or simply ethics, in general). Related to this, they might see the chief benefit of work you do abroad not so much in the help you provide to others (as valuable as that may be, it might only have been temporary) but in what you learn from the people, communities, and cultures you encounter. Thus, it is also important to understand the context in which such work is done.

Political, historical, and cultural processes all play a significant role in healthcare practice, and the education you receive in a health professions program will reflect that. In fact, you’ll be expected to know something about that before you arrive, and you’ll be evaluated about these aspects via interviews, among other measures. Consider taking advantage of the academic strength here at U-M and LSA. In particular, use part of your education to explore health, illness, and medicine. Some (but not all) of the courses that talk about health and illness are listed here:

  • AMCULT 331: Health in America: Patterns, Experiences, and Inequalities
  • ANTHRCUL 344: Medical Anthropology
  • HISTORY 234: History of Medicine in the Western World from the 18th Century to the Present
  • HISTORY 284: Sickness and Health in Society: 1492 to the Present
  • PHIL 356: Issues in Bioethics
  • PUBHLTH 300: Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for the Health Professions (non-LSA)
  • SOC 302: Health and Society: An Introduction to Sociology
  • SOC 475: Introduction to Medical Sociology
  • SOC 746: Sociology of Bioethics
  • WOMENSTD 220: Perspectives in Women’s Health