University of Wisconsin–Madison

International Programs

Helene Altmann doing neurological research at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
Helene Altmann doing neurological research at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

Interested in going abroad?

There are many opportunities for undergraduate students to do great things in other countries. You can learn about them from the following offices on our campus:

Advisors in these offices connect students with international academic programs and internship opportunities in a variety of fields, including the sciences.

UW-Madison’s Global Health Institute

You might also consider learning more about the Global Health Institute on our campus and the Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health.  Students pursuing this certificate choose from field experiences led by UW-Madison faculty in many different countries.  These field experiences are a great opportunity to learn about healthcare delivery in an international context and the broader social, cultural, and environmental factors that impact human health.

What about health-related service abroad?

Many students are interested in gaining clinical experience abroad.  Admissions committees value international experiences, but they do not expect these experiences to be tied to healthcare. It is true that there are many short-term programs that give undergraduate students the opportunity to volunteer in clinical settings. However, because there are legal and ethical concerns that revolve around these programs, we recommend approaching them with caution.  As one article states, going on these trips “may end up hurting, not helping, [your] graduate applications, because many medical, dental, and nursing schools view such behavior as unethical and irresponsible.”  You need to do thorough research before going on a health-related service trip abroad.

A group of UW-Madison undergraduate students developed a set of Ethical Considerations for health-related service abroad in collaboration with the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, Center for Pre-Health Advising, and School of Medicine and Public Health. Please find these considerations on our website. In addition, the student leaders of this group wrote an article about their efforts and reasons for them which has been published in Harvard University’s Health and Human Rights JournalHave a look at the article.

To learn more about challenges associated with short-term clinical service trips, explore this free course offered by Stanford University’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Questions to Consider

If you do decide to pursue a clinical service trip abroad, here are some questions to guide your research and evaluation of programs:

  • What are your reasons for wanting to go on a health-related service trip?
  • What are you hoping to learn from this experience?
  • What do you know about the program you want through which you want to go abroad?  Is it for-profit or non-profit?
  • What are you paying for when you go on your trip?
  • Does the program have a presence in or near the community on a sustained basis, or is it a mobile clinic?
  • Does the program partner with local clinicians and community leaders?
  • How much do you know about the community you will be serving?  Will there be language or cultural barriers?  How does the program address these barriers in providing care to patients?
  • Will you be caring for patients independently?  Do you have certification or qualifications that allow you to perform the same patient care duties in the United States?

Helpful Readings