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Med Educ. 2014 Apr;48(4):397-404. doi: 10.1111/medu.12386.

Toward reciprocity: host supervisor perspectives on international medical electives.

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Michael G DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.



An increasing number of medical students are engaging in international medical electives, the majority of which involve travel from northern, higher-income countries to southern, lower-income countries. Existing research has identified benefits to students participating in these experiences. However, reports on the impacts on host communities are largely absent from the literature.


The current study aims to identify host country perspectives on international medical electives.


Questionnaires were delivered to a convenience sample of supervisors hosting international elective students (n = 39) from a Canadian medical school. Responses represented 22 countries. Conventional content analysis of the qualitative data was used to identify themes in host supervisor perspectives on the impact of international medical electives.


Host country supervisors identified that in addition to the benefits realised by the elective students, supervisors and their institutions also benefited from hosting Canadian students. Although some host supervisors denied the occurrence of any harm, others expressed concern that international elective students may negatively impact the local community in terms of resource use and patient care. Host country supervisors also identified potential harms to travelling students including health risks and emotional distress. Ideas for improving international electives were identified and were largely centred around increasing the bidirectional flow of students by establishing formal partnerships between institutions.


This research provides important insights into the impacts of international medical student electives from the perspective of host country supervisors. This research may be a starting point for further research and the establishment of meaningful partnerships that incorporate the self-identified needs of receiving institutions, especially those in lower-income settings.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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