Are you ready? A systematic review of pre-departure resources for global health electives

Anna Kalbarczyk, Emily Nagourney, Nina A. Martin, Victoria Chen, Bhakti Hansoti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background: There has been an exponential increase in the offering of short-term international field experiences in recent years in response to student demands for global health opportunities. Pre-departure preparation is an essential component to equip trainees with the adequate safety, wellness, and cultural competence needed to engage in a meaningful and mutually beneficial elective. This review seeks to quantify the plethora of pre-departure preparation training available to public health, clinical, and undergraduate trainees across the continuum of education for short-term experiences in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Methods: We performed a systematic review of Pubmed, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus, and Ovid Global Health in February, 2018. A three-concept search was employed and included "global or international health"; "education or preparation of personnel/students"; and "field programs or travel." The study teamed used PRISMA reporting guidelines to conduct title and full-text reviews and conduct data extraction and analysis. Results: The search returned 2506 unique articles. Of these, 55 met inclusion criteria and were included in the final review. Ninety one percent (91%) of articles focused on pre-departure trainings for medical students and residents. Nine thematic domains for short-term international field experiences emerged; culture, safety, and project-specific knowledge were the most frequently covered domains while mentorship, professionalism, and emotional wellness and culture shock were least common. Approximately half (53.3%) of studies specifically evaluated the pre-departure component of the international experience using a survey or evaluation form. Recommendations emerged from these evaluations including early engagement with international partners, inclusion of self-reflection exercises and site-specific content, and utilization of interactive approaches in learning. Some institutions face barriers to conducting pre-departure preparation such as lack of dedicated faculty, finances, and institutional support. Conclusions: Interest in pre-departure training for international experiences is growing but few programs conduct and publish evaluations of these trainings. Pre-departure trainings should be developed in partnership with receiving institutions and faculty and incorporate critical self- reflection throughout the experience. In addition to the experience itself, institutions need to evaluate these curricula to better understand how they influence trainees' capacity to effectively engage in LMIC settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number166
JournalBMC medical education
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 22 2019


  • Global health
  • International elective
  • Predeparture preparation
  • Short-term training
  • Travel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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