J Med Ethics 34:375-378 doi:10.1136/jme.2006.019265
  • Global medical ethics

The medical student global health experience: professionalism and ethical implications

  1. S Shah1,
  2. T Wu2
  1. 1
    Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA
  2. 2
    David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
  1. S Shah, Apt. 122 University Manor East, Hershey, PA 17033, USA; sural.shah{at}
  • Received 24 September 2006
  • Revised 9 April 2007
  • Accepted 1 May 2007


Medical student and resident participation in global health experiences (GHEs) has significantly increased over the last decade. In response to growing student interest and the proven impact of such experiences on the education and career decisions of resident physicians, many medical schools have begun to establish programmes dedicated to global health education. For the innumerable benefits of GHEs, it is important to note that medical students have the potential to do more harm than good in these settings when they exceed their actual capabilities as physicians-in-training. While medical training programmes are beginning to provide students with the knowledge to put their GHEs in context, they must remember that they also bear the responsibility of training their students in a framework to approach these experiences in a principled and professional way. It is necessary that these institutions provide adequate and formalised preparation for both clinical and ethical challenges of working in resource-poor settings. This paper outlines potential benefits and risks of GHEs and delineates recommendations to some of the current issues.


  • Competing interests: None.