Going Abroad - UNC Medical Students

Want to do a global health elective during medical school? Below is a step by step plan to get you started.

2015 Monique Araujo_ South Africa travel
Monique Araujo, MS1, South Africa (2015)

We are happy to help you in the Office of International Activities. Call for an appointment (962-6195) or stop by! (1066 Bondurant Hall).

The beginning of your first year is not too early to begin thinking about what you would be interested in doing.  Often overseas correspondence and project organization entail long delays, so be patient and persistent. It is not impossible to put together a good project in a few months, but you will be less frantic if you have more time.  Sometimes a trip can fall through for a variety of reasons.  Start planning early and you will have more time to work out the kinks or make other plans. While reading through the list below, please note the suggested dates for completing each step and that many organizations (even those at UNC) will have earlier deadlines.

See the experiences of other UNC medical students, and other useful resources.

For more information see this PowerPoint presentation: "Getting the most out of a global health elective".

UNC Medical Students Pre-Departure Requirements Checklist

Failure to follow these mandatory requirements could result in academic credit forfeiture or non-reimbursement of UNC-­sponsored travel expenses, or could place you at financial risk should you require medical evacuation.

1. Fill out the HTH  travel health/evacuation  Only after you receive an email from the Shay Slifko in the OIA instructing you to do so, you will use the provided link to purchase your HTH travel health insurance.The email will include a link for purchasing HTH travel insurance and access to Sakai modules. (Please allow at least 7 business days to process the insurance form before emailing Shay Slifko)

2. Purchase travel health/evacuation insurance through UNC. (You will receive an email from the OIA instructing you how to purchase HTH travel insurance and give you access to Sakai. Please allow at least 7 business days to process the insurance form before emailing Shay Slifko)

You will not receive the email instructing you to print your ID card until your registration information to HTH is sent (which depending on your travel dates can range up until a week prior to departure). The emails are generated by HTH since they have unique certificate #s. Please expect a few weeks before you receive the link to print your insurance card.

3. Register your Individual travel dates with the UNC Global Travel Registry/ Sign the travel waiver form at the end of the GTR(you will receive daily reminders if you do not submit the waiver) You will not submit the completed travel waiver form to the OIA.

The first time you log into the GTR, it takes you to the page called My Contact Info.  On that page, you must confirm your name, PID, status, and preferred email. Also on that page, do not select the country and city from the drop down windows on the My Contact Info page, which is ONLY for permanent assignments. Proceed, instead, to Travel Plans page to correctly add your trip.

4. Complete the two required online global health modules and subsequent quizzes.

5. Sign and submit the Code of Conduct

6. Submit the evaluation of your international rotation to us, no later than 30 days, after your trip.

7. Read and Print (2 copies) the UNC SOM Emergency Plan. And leave a copy of the SOM Emergency Plan and host contact information with an emergency contact who is not traveling with you.

8. Register your travel location and dates with the U.S. Department of State.

9. Take care of any immunizations. Attend a travel health clinic -an affordable option- such as UNC Campus Health’s International Travel Clinic for appropriate health and safety information, immunizations and medications to help reduce the risk of illness and injury related to international travel. Please see UNC's International Travel Clinic website here to schedule an appointment.

Zika Virus in Central & South America and the Caribbean.

Ethical Photography Guidelines

Zika virus in Central & South America and the Caribbean - See more at: http://global.unc.edu/zika-virus-in-central-south-america-and-the-caribbean/#sthash.gCeBcB4n.dpuf
Zika virus in Central & South America and the Caribbean - See more at: http://global.unc.edu/zika-virus-in-central-south-america-and-the-caribbean/#sthash.gCeBcB4n.dpuf


Allie Halpern_Malawi Carolina Covenant scholar (2012)
Allie Halpern-MS1 (second from right) UNC Project Malawi

Not sure when or how to begin planning for your global health elective? A 6-step timeline is provided in great detail below. 

Step 1 (For an abbreviated guide and time line in PDF format, please click here.)

(September - October) Get a clear understanding of what your options are for electives during medical school at UNC

As a 1st year student, attend the IHF summer experiences discussions, global health interest group meetings for Honduran Health Alliance and Proyecto Puentes de Salud, and learn about what your options are for global health electives and courses during medical school at UNC (Fall of 1st year).  

UNC medical students most often complete global health electives during:
• Summer between 1st and 2nd year for up to 8 weeks during the "individualization phase". Six credits are available for electives during this period and ONLY 6 credits from pre-clinical courses can be counted towards the 18 elective credits necessary for graduation.

• As a 4th year student, during the "individualization phase,"  you can do a total of two months (12 credits) of global health elective time for credit. Generally, this would include two separate electives with clear objectives and learning opportunities and a medical compenent (language school only would not count). The best time is generally between January (after residency interviews) and March (before the required Capstone course). This needs to be carefully discussed with your faculty advisor and the Office of International Activities.

• Some students take a leave from medical school to complete an MPH or a specific global health fellowship program. This longer global health possibility (from 6-12 months) is an important consideration for students seriously considering a career in global health. You can take two years off medical school for any reason. Some of the opportunities for extended global health work for medical students can be found on our funding page under the longer term experiences.

Step 2

(September - October) Think about what you want to get out of the experience and where you would like to go

There are many important reasons to do a global health elective but what you get out of it will at least partially be determined by what ideas you went into it with. Think about:

Why do you want to go? To broaden your life experience? To test the possibilities of devoting at least part of your medical career to international health? To experience and learn from another culture? To have opportunity to improve language skills? To serve others (or learn how to serve) with fewer resources and access to health care? To seek out information about the health and health care system of your own country of origin or ancestry?

What kind of experience do you want? Clinical, public-health related, or research? At what level, in what technical area, and in what type of institution? What do you hope for in a mentor/preceptor? Do you want to work with a group, or be integrated into ongoing care with nationals? What location preferences do you have: geographic, linguistic, nationality; urban, rural, or remote? If you are married or have a partner, what will they do, what are their views, and how will they share your experience?

There are established programs in many countries, and you can always create your own project as well. There are numerous resources you can use to find a program that might interest you. You can start with looking our list of programs and past student experiences and other organizations.

Please note that UNC Office of the Provost maintains a UNC Travel Policy, considering US State Department warnings as well as CDC travel advisories. This determines which countries students (as well as resident physicians and faculty) can officially travel to. There is currently a list of countries that students cannot travel to and others need special waivers. If you are considering travel to a Level II or Level III country, please contact Shay Slifko in our office right away ().

Step 3

(November - December) Find a UNC faculty preceptor and an international preceptor/mentor

To register for a global health elective or selective and receive credit, you MUST have a UNC medical school faculty advisor who registers you for a specific elective course in their department. Possible courses all listed in the electives catalog (some are listed in the table below). You need to obtain an elective request form from Leanne Shook (leanne_shook@med.unc.edu 1001 Bondurant Hall) or on the "Forms" section of this website and have your advisor sign it to register for an international elective.  Leanne can help coordinate the timing of the registration to meet both course requirements and financial aid guidelines.

Any UNC medical school faculty CAN be your faculty advisor if they are able to sign off on your elective request, approve registration for you in an elective course in their department, and take responsibility for working with you to plan an appropriate learning experience, completing your evaluation and grade submission. The Office of International Activities will work with you and your faculty advisor to make sure you have the information you need to plan a great elective and that the paperwork for evaluation of your global health elective gets completed.

Several lists have been compiled, but the most up-to-date information can be found using the faculty search engine generated by the University Center for Global Initiatives. Enter key words to find the faculty involved in the international project or topic that you're interested in.

The CGI also provides a collaborative agreements search engine giving "information on the international collaborative activities, partnerships, and research projects of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill," which may be helpful as well. Also check with the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Disease and the School of Public Health Office of Global Health for specific areas of interest and geographic experience of UNC faculty for ideas. Many faculty are willing to help with mentoring for international electives.

One of the best ways to find out who is involved in international projects is by talking with faculty members (teachers, ICM preceptors, Dr. Dent, etc.) and classmates or upperclassmen. They will all be glad to help you find what you're interested in.

Step 4

(January - February) Make a schedule of deadlines - for a project proposal (if needed), scholarship/grant applications and applications to overseas placements, applications, letters of recommendation, and getting ready to go!

It is very easy, in the busyness of medical school, to get overwhelmed with paperwork and arrangements and to miss deadlines for getting things done. Global health opportunities are usually well worth the effort, but do require staying on top of things.

Step 5 

(January - February) Find and apply for funding $$$

Finding funding for going abroad generally comes from one of three sources:

Scholarships or Grants - there are a wide variety of scholarships and grants on campus that you can apply to as well as those through national organizations such as AMSA, AMA, or AOA that can help make your trip possible.  A list of funding sources is available here to get you started.

Yourself - In most situations, a global health elective is going to cost some money out of your pocket. Students in the past have raised money from friends and family, picked up flexible jobs like valeting, waiting tables etc. Funding for global health electives for medical students is limited, particularly for electives which are service-oriented.

Loans - If you are getting credit for your project abroad, you are eligible to receive financial aid. In order to receive financial aid before your trip, you need to apply for it at least 6 weeks prior to departure (and your elective request/credit application MUST be submitted before you apply). For questions regarding loans or other financial issues, contact Sheila Graham (, 1001 Bondurant Hall).  If you want to apply for financial aid loan money for your global health elective you need to register for the elective in the summer session (and you also must pay summer tuition). If you do not need financial aid loan money, you can register for the elective as part of your MS2 fall classes so that the tuition is covered in the tuition package, even though you will complete the elective and required class work and evaluation during the summer.

Step 6 

(March - April) Get ready to travel safely and be prepared for emergencies

Travel insurance including evacuation is required for all UNC students and faculty traveling outside of the US as part of school or work experience. Students are required to purchase travel health insurance through UNC School of Medicine if they are receiving academic credit or funding from UNC, or if they are acting in the role of a medical student.  For example, students are required to purchase travel health insurance through UNC if they are participating in a program like Himalayan Health Exchange, Interhealth South America, International Health Partners , IFMSA or any other program where the student is identified as a medical student – regardless of funding or academic credit.

You MUST obtain insurance in order to get credit for your elective or receive funding from UNC sources.

HTH is the provider of the UNC-sanctioned international travel insurance.  The daily premium is $1.42/day. If you need coverage before or after the dates of your project, the premium is $2.95/day. After you purchase the insurance, Shay Slifko will send an email confirmation directly to the Office of Student Affairs stating you are able to apply for credit for the elective. You will receive an insurance card directly from HTH that you should carry with you when you travel.  You can start the process of purchasing insurance by filling out the web form found here or under the "Medical Students tab/Travel Health Insurance" section of our website.

**Please note: You are not able to sign up for before/after coverage until after you have received an email from HTH enrollment with your assigned certificate number.  Before/after coverage registration is located on a separate website and is not done through our web form.**

You must also register with the UNC Global Travel Registry. This is a University-wide system and is MANDATORY for all UNC students.

All enrolled medical students going abroad for any educationally related international health experience (clinical work, community health, language learning or research) MUST complete two online modules: "Travel Health and Safety" and "Cross-cultural Issues, Ethics and Professionalism for global health electives" prior to leaving the US. These modules are required for ALL enrolled medical students, regardless of whether or not credit is being awarded. In addition, all medical students who are engaged in the planning, conduct or analysis of research involving human subjects MUST complete Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) training (see http://research.unc.edu/offices/human-research-ethics) and have, or be included in, the IRB approval of any research. Students who fail to comply with this policy will not be granted credit for the international elective (if the elective is for credit) and will have to forfeit any research or grant related funding.  To access the two required modules, you must first fill out the online insurance form (mentioned above). You will then receive an email granting you access to the GLBE999.MOD.1112 Sakai site where the modules and quizzes are located.  Please click here for more information about these modules.

UNC Student Health Services has an International Travel Clinic which can help to get all your immunizations and meds up to par for travel. This clinic specializes in getting students prepared for going abroad. The appointment consists of a presentation on health precautions, a handout packet on your country of travel and other travel tips, and their recommendations for immunizations and other medications that you'll need prior to leaving. A summary of this process and some alternatives is covered in our document on International Travel Clinic Info.

Call for an appointment 3-6 months prior to travel, or as soon as you know your plans. It takes advanced planning to get fully vaccinated. There can be substantial cost savings when certain vaccines are started early. (You are not required to use their services-you can be immunized at any clinic of your preference but it is likely that student health services will be considerably less expensive than private travel clinics or physician offices). The appointment for the clinic itself may cost a bit more than a normal appointment with student health. Check the CDC website for recommended immunizations and travel tips for your country. You should also take care of any dental care you need prior to leaving, as well as make sure you have an adequate supply of any prescription and over the counter medicines for the duration of your trip.  Its also a good idea to communicate with those you'll be working with about medical supplies it might be helpful to bring - for yourself or the project. If you are taking any significant piece of equipment, make certain that you know about any customs regulations or taxes that may be involved. MedWorld (a supplier of health supplies and equipment abroad based at UNC) may be able to help you with specific needs.

Although there are always inherent risks with international travel, we want to do everything possible to prepare students to have safe and enjoyable experiences and we also want to be certain that you have the information needed to respond to an emergency if need be. and to be prepared for emergencies. UNC SOM students and faculty must abide by UNC travel policies and emergency procedures. See UNC SOM Emergency Plan for important emergency planning information.


Pre-Departure Requirements Checklist: HOnduran Health Alliance- Clinic Day

1. Sign up for Travel health insurance

2. Purchase travel health/evacuation insurance through UNC.

3. Register with the UNC Global Travel Registry/ Sign  the Travel Waiver form.

4. Complete the two required online travel modules and quizzes on Sakai.

5. Sign and submit the Code of Conduct

6. Register with the State Department, take care of any immunizations, and leave a copy of emergency plans and contact information with a family member.

Step 7

Remember to leave some time and energy to re-enter gently and wrap things up when you return

If you have applied for elective credit, you will need to submit an evaluation of your elective, a preceptor's evaluation of your performance and experience, and whatever project or paper is required by your faculty advisor for the specific class you registered for. The elective evaluation and the preceptor evaluation should be submitted electronically to the Office of International Activities. Your faculty advisor will complete your grade on the One-45 system when all paperwork is complete.

Checklist: Before you Go

• Have you gone to see the travel nurse for the necessary innoculations, etc.?

• Will you need a Visa for the country you are going to?

• Have you checked out the State Department warning for your country?

• Have you filled out the travel insurance forms and completed all requirements for UNC?

• If you are doing research, have you started the IRB process?

• Have you checked out the Centers for Disease Control's advice on medications, safe travel tips and immunizations for the country you are going to?

Below are some more resources to help you get organized and prepared:

Cultural Competence Resources ( These resources are courtesy of UNC Gillings™ School of Global Public Health)

Not required, but we encourage you to review the material found on these websites to help facilitate working effectively abroad.

Additional Resources

• The GHEC Guidebook: Advising Medical Students and Residents for International Health Experiences:

• "Professionalism 101," by Jacqui Shaw, Child Family Health International Team Alumna. An article on professional conduct during an international project:

• These are informative sites to help you learn about your destination, as well as health considerations while living there.

The CIA World Fact Book
Travel Health Online
WHO International Travel and Health
National and Religious Holidays
UNC Student Health's Traveler's Diarrhea handout

 Much of the material on this page was adapted from the AMSA site on global electives. We would like to thank them for this information.