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Global Health Electives


A global health elective is not the same as an international health experience.  The fundamental aspect of a global health elective is that it involves working in an underserved or resource-constrained population. 

An elective experience in an underserved or resource-constrained population, even for a relatively short time, can be an enriching educational experience for students.  Exposure to different cultures, health/illness beliefs, health care delivery systems and types of health problems are important in the overall educational experience for future physicians.  A global health elective provides students with a unique opportunity to see how the social determinants of health play a key role in patient health and health seeking behaviours.  Students have the opportunity to see health and illness in a broader perspective and context. 

Improvements in health and health care delivery require a combination of efforts that address issues of poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, etc.  Students returning from global health electives describe a heightened awareness of the social determinants of health and the critical role they play in the overall health of individuals and populations.  It gives students the opportunity to see health issues in our own society from a different, deeper, and broader perspective. 


Global health electives are an important and appreciated activity by students at the University of Calgary.  University faculty members similarly appreciate the potential benefits of global health electives, but also recognize that learner expectations can be mismatched to their actual experiences. 

The educational values of global health electives are difficult to measure and learning objectives are often not clearly defined or understood by all parties involved.  Students are often constrained by their knowledge, skill and language limitations.  Furthermore, in resource-constrained settings where regulations are different or less defined, students often face unexpected ethical dilemmas.

Global health electives also place burden on the resource-constrained environments to which our students travel,  Local preceptors teach, supervise and evaluate our students in addition to their own students and in addition to their other responsibilities.  Language interpreters are often needed to assist students in communicating with patients.  Historically, the benefits or weight that global health electives place on receiving institutions has been largely overlooked. 

The University of Calgary seeks to develop opportunitites for student learning using a partnership model by developing relationships with institutions over time.  It also wishes to dialogue and explore mutually beneficial activities with partner institutions.  It is within this context that the University of Calgary wishes to assist students in setting up global health experiences. 

Guiding Principles for Global Health Electives

The guiding principles for global health electives at the University of Calgary include:

  1. Safe environment for students
  2. Educational value for students with clearly identified learning objectives
  3. Pre-departure training and post-trip debriefing with students
  4. Preceptors in place who understand and agree with the student's learning objectives
  5. Socially responsible and mutually beneficial relationships with host preceptors and partnering institutions based upon a relationship or partnership model
  6. Regular feedback to and from partnering institutions concerning the UofC student global health electives
  7. Ongoing assessment and evaluation of global health electives
  8. Ethical and professional conduct by students and faculty

Tanzania - people in street, Monty Ghosh

 Tanzania - people in street, Monty Ghosh