International medical electives undertaken by Australian medical students: current trends and future directions

Iain R Law, Paul S Worley and Freya J Langham
Med J Aust 2013; 198 (6): 324-326. || doi: 10.5694/mja12.11463


Objectives: To estimate the proportion of students in Australian medical schools who undertake international medical electives (IMEs), particularly in developing countries, and to ascertain which medical schools provide predeparture training and postelective debriefing.

Design, setting and participants: Extraction of data on the number of students undertaking electives from the Medical Schools Outcomes Database (MSOD) for the years 2006 to 2010; and interviews with the directors of each medical school in Australia in May to July 2012 to ascertain the availability of predeparture training and postelective debriefing.

Main outcome measures: The proportion of medical students undertaking IMEs overall and within developing countries and the proportion of medical schools with optional and mandatory predeparture training and postelective debriefing.

Results: Fifty-three per cent of graduate-entry (GE) program students and 35% of high-school entry (HSE) program students undertook IMEs. Fifty-nine per cent of electives undertaken by GE program students were in developing countries, compared with 56% for HSE program students. Predeparture training was offered by 12 of the 16 Australian medical schools, but it was mandatory in only six. Only eight schools offer postelective debriefing.

Conclusions: A large proportion of Australian medical students undertake IMEs in developing countries. However, a considerable proportion of students do not undertake formal preparation for, or reflection on, their experiences. Predeparture training and postelective debriefing should be scaled up across Australian medical schools to provide students with the guidance and support to maximise the benefits and minimise risks associated with undertaking IMEs in developing countries.

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  • Iain R Law1
  • Paul S Worley1
  • Freya J Langham2

  • 1 Flinders University, Adelaide, SA.
  • 2 Australian Medical Students’ Association, Canberra, ACT.



The research on which this publication is based used data provided by the Medical Schools Outcomes Database and Longitudinal Tracking Project, Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand. We thank the medical students, graduates and doctors who participated. The MSOD project is possible due to funding from Health Workforce Australia (2011 onwards) and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2004–2011). We thank AMSA for its cooperation with this project and the committed efforts of the student representatives of the AGH Committee for their role in data collection.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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