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What do clinical experience, successful storytelling, and extracurricular activities all have in common? If you guessed they’re all essential elements of a successful medical school application, then you’d be correct!

I’m sure you’ve done your fair share of studying, volunteering, and research. And in that way, you’ve already made a good head start on preparing yourself for the journey to medical school. But there are ways to make yourself stand out even more distinctly from the rest of the premed crowd. Participating in an international shadowing fellowship will help you gain massive clinical exposure, give you the ability to tell a great story on your med school app, and boost your extracurricular resume.

Get Medical Experience

On international fellowship programs, students spend 20+ hours per week shadowing doctors, rotating through different specialties and getting an up-close view of what medicine looks like in action. This high level of medical exposure lets students gain a clarified understanding of what a career in medicine entails and fulfills the “clinical experience” requirement that most med schools have on their checklists.


One of the best ways to create a network of pre-med and medical school advisors is to attend an international fellowship abroad, in which students will be working closely with other, like-minded pre-health students. Not only are these fellowships great opportunities to make networking connections that may prove useful when applying to medical school, an international fellowship provides a great way to meet new friends and stay connected to fellow students and coworkers.

Perform Better in Interviews and on Med School Apps

Tell[ing] a story in your personal crucial to standing out from all the hundreds of other applicants

Although most pre-health fellowship opportunities don’t offer university credit, the unique experiences that these programs offer students will afford them a wealth of interesting subject matters to discuss in med school interviews and on personal statements. Being able to tell a story in your personal statement and in your interviews is crucial to standing out from all the hundreds of other applicants. On international fellowship programs, students are able to see what life in another country is like, as well as gain practical and clinical exposure to a variety of medical fields. Having this opportunity is a great way to get more direct observation experience outside of the classroom and allows you to develop material that will prove useful in interviews and application statements.

Expand Your Understanding of Healthcare

As important as it is for students to understand their own country’s healthcare system, an international experience will provide a much more well-rounded view of healthcare. By gaining insight into the elements of international healthcare that are successful, students can apply that valuable knowledge to their future careers. In the rapidly changing field of healthcare, this knowledge can be useful and will highlight a valuable global mindset in interviews and applications.

Find the Right Field for You

One of the most valuable perspectives you can gain from a fellowship program abroad is insight into the different specialties of medicine. With a fellowship program that allows you to shadow multiple medical specialties, you will gain exposure to different types of medicine and even may ultimately find the field of medicine you want to pursue long term. Additionally, you will most certainly become more enthused about pursuing your dream in healthcare, driving you to work harder in school.

Boost Your Extracurricular Activities

Among the many ways to stand out on a medical school application is being able to prove the value of your extracurricular activities. You’ll want to be able to explain why the activities into which you’ve poured significant time and energy are valuable to your career as a doctor. One way to prove the worth of your extracurricular activities is to go on an international fellowship abroad. On some fellowship programs, you will have the opportunity to participate in medical research and volunteering. In combination with your time spent shadowing doctors abroad, these extracurricular activities will allow you to grow in your communication skills, international immersion, and understanding of medical service. You might even end up learning a new language! Furthermore, participating in an international fellowship will allow you to express these activities more clearly on a resume, making a case for why your time was spent well.


Whether you go abroad for a week, a few months, or longer, there are countless benefits you will gain from your international experience as a pre-health student. In addition to personal growth, international experience will further prepare you to present yourself as the ideal candidate for your desired job or professional school. In addition to the highlights in this article, there are numerous other advantages to having international experience that will continue to benefit you long into the future.

Note that if you are a student interning in a hospital, even as part of a foreign healthcare system, it is important that you do not do anything while in the hospital that you are not allowed to do in the United States. Hospital internships should involve only observing doctors and not practicing any medicine. Violating these standards, regardless of the country where you are located when doing so, will only hurt your medical school application. The safest thing is only to observe. If you are at an early stage of your health professions education you should focus on observation; this way your international experience can be a strong step toward making you a better candidate and a better healthcare professional—while having a lot of fun exploring another country along the way.

About Julia DeCelles-Zwerneman

Julia graduated with high distinction from the University of Virginia with Bachelors degrees in biology and music. Through her time spent working at a Spanish health clinic in Washington, D.C., she developed a passion for service and reinforced her desire to pursue a career in medicine. As a promotion coordinator with the Atlantis Project, Julia is excited to help other pre-med students discover a love for medicine and grow in their understanding of the field.

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Before I could finish typing the question, Google, in all its autocomplete glory, filled in these three suggestions for my query:

"How do you prepare for a tornado?"

"How do you prepare for a hurricane?"

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Behind me, I heard the sound of a car door opening. Out of a gray sedan emerged a red-faced boy, no older than twenty. His face was the definition of sheer terror. As he exited the car, I heard his mom bellow from the passenger-door window, “You better do well on that test, BRIAN!” Tears began to drip down his face, and the car peeled off. He hung his head, visibly defeated, and he slowly approached the gallows—the MCAT testing center.

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Alice graduated with a major in human developmental and regenerative biology and a minor in global health and health policy. Her main extracurriculars included dance, the health advocacy program, and stem cell biology research. After her undergraduate career Alice decided to take two gap years. In her first year she backpacked through Spain on the Michael C. Rockefeller Fellowship and in her second year she worked in thoracic oncology clinical research at UCLA. Alice will begin her enrollment at Stanford Medical School in the Fall of 2016.

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I have been hitting medical interviews hard since August and have yet to go through an interview without mentioning my Fellowship experience through the Atlantis Project in Albacete, Spain. Being proficient in Spanish, traveling to Spain had obvious pros in my mind. And intending a future in medicine, shadowing physicians abroad almost had more appeal.

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The exposure I received through the Atlantis Project showed me I wanted to be a doctor. It represented for me an occupation that balanced the competency of knowledge-based learning with the compassion associated with a social, patient-centered daily schedule. From the AP, I went on to pursue an internship at University of California, Davis School of Medicine and worked to incorporate for physiology-based classes into my undergraduate coursework.