Can Pre-health Students Go Abroad?

Yes, many pre-health students find a rewarding way to study, conduct research, work or volunteer abroad.  It may not seem possible when you consider all of your required coursework and campus commitments, but with a little planning, it can be done.  These are some of the most common paths our pre-health students take to experience life in another country:

Penn Study Abroad – a traditional semester or year of study in another country.  Some students choose programs related to health or science, others not at all.  Whatever you choose is fine, but remember the requirements for health professions schools need to be taken in the U.S.

Penn Short Term Abroad – summer study abroad and short-term learning experiences.  From a summer of international study to service learning and leadership ventures, Penn sponsors a number of opportunities if you want to “go global” outside of your regular class schedule.

International Clinical Volunteering Programs – opportunities to help provide healthcare abroad, from 10 days to a year.  Do evaluate the expense and safety of each program.

Penn International Internship Program – 8-12 week long internships and funding for internships abroad.  Survey a list of previous participants for examples related to healthcare.

International Fellowships – A number of fellowships, such as the Fulbright or Gates Cambridge Scholarship, fund study or research abroad.  CURF is your stepping stone for applying to them.  It is not at all uncommon for our applicants to health professions schools to delay their application to take advantage of a post-graduate opportunity in another country.

The AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program (FAP) for Applicants

Carol Hagan, Associate Director

Many people who are planning to apply to medical school are not aware of the AAMC’s Fee Assistance Program (FAP).  FAP can greatly reduce the expense of applying to medical school with a lowered registration fee, free MCAT preparation materials, free access to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) and waived AMCAS fees for up to 15 medical schools for a combined value of over $1,500.

In 2016, fee assistance is granted if each household reported on your application has a 2015 total family income that is 300 percent or less than the 2015 national poverty level [link:] for a family of its size.  You will need to submit supporting documents; at minimum, you will be asked to provide copies of IRS Federal Income Tax Forms or W-2/1099 forms for the previous year in addition to a Financial Aid Award Letter and Cost of Attendance information if relevant.  The application and detailed instructions are available on the AAMC’s FAP web site

Be sure to apply early as it can take the AAMC up to 15 business days to make their decision.  If you are granted fee assistance, the benefit is good from the time it is granted through the end of the next calendar year.

5 Tips for Writing a Statement of Purpose for Graduate Programs

Many graduate school applications are due next month and we know most applicants are asked to write a Statement of Purpose to accompany their application.  While the Statement of Purpose will vary somewhat depending upon your field and the program to which you apply, there are some points every person writing one should keep in mind:

  1. A Statement of Purpose should be…purposeful.  That is to say, you should be direct about why you are applying to graduate school and what you plan to do there and afterwards.  There is no need to convey your entire educational background or write oodles about how much you love your field of interest.
  2. Be clear about the scope of your experiences in your field.  If you did research on something, for example, you might convey what research methods you used, whether you worked individually or collaboratively, describe any end results of the work, or share any important things you learned from the project.  Saying you researched a topic or area is not enough, you need describe your work with some (but too much) detail.
  3. Be sure to write about your experience, your future in the graduate program, and your career objectives.  Everything should make sense.  Someone can describe some wonderful experiences, but not a clear vision of what they hope to gain from graduate studies.  Another person might skip mentioning any professional life after graduate school.  Cover all areas.
  4. You should communicate a high level of understanding of the field.  This means sharing the particulars of your experiences in way that doesn’t merely report facts or repeat the obvious, but shows that you are actively thinking about significant issues and areas for further exploration.  You want to sound like someone who is ready to move forward, not someone who wants to take more undergraduate courses or continue to assist graduate students in a lab.
  5. Be sure you are at the center of the Statement.  Writing a great deal about your love of the subject, the high quality of program to which you are applying, or quoting other people doesn’t address the questions in your readers’ minds:  Why do you want to go to graduate school?  Are you a good fit for their program?  Are you motivated and, if so, for what reasons?

AAMC’s Inspiring Stories from Medical Students

Carol Hagan, Associate Director

If you are feeling like your journey to medical school is “off track” you might be encouraged by some of the Inspiring Stories published by the AAMC.  Allison Lyle shares the story of her success on her fourth application to medical school and Aretha Delight Davis talks about becoming a physician after six year of practicing law.  You can read stories shared by other people who chose medicine as a second career, medical students who were inspired by their experiences as patients, and students who balance the work of medical school with family and other responsibilities.  Blake Charlton attended Stanford University School of Medicine after years of studying with a learning disability, dyslexia, and Aaron Hollis Palmer went to medical school after leaving college twice.  Reading the stories of people who have found their own distinct way to a career in medicine can be reassuring when you feel like you have to do everything “right.”

Also available from the AAMC are several video clips from their Ask a Med Student series so you can gather a wide range of perspectives beyond your immediate social and academic circles.

Pre-Health Food for Thought


Our office has noticed that many pre-health students love to cook and, especially, bake.  We’ve seen pictures of whimsical cakes (it looks like a plate of spaghetti and meatballs…but, it’s a cake), tasted delicious homemade creations (thank you), and perused Martha-quality food blog entries, all created by health-minded Penn students.  We also know many pre-health students plan to integrate their love of cooking with a career in healthcare.  Here are a few ways healthcare professionals have integrated their love of cooking with a medical career:

  • The Cooking Doctor is Jehanne Ali, a surgeon, author and food blogger.  Above is a picture of her Coconut Candy fudge.
  • The Foodie Physician is an emergency medicine doc with a culinary degree.  Being a doctor doesn’t mean giving up the kitchen!
  • Healthcare professionals can attend a Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives conference  at The Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley to learn the latest about diet and nutrition.  Did I mention, Napa Valley?
  • Physicians can cook together for a fundraiser like the Doctors Who Cook event  in Augusta, Georgia benefiting the Children’s Heart Program at the Children’ Hospital of Georgia.
  • The pediatrician-founded Dr. Yum Project promotes food-related wellness for children through education, action and advocacy.  Yum!
  • You can take classes as a medical student or as a continuing medical education student at The Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane.  Studies in culinary medicine at the first teaching kitchen implemented at a medical school — how neat is that?
  • Start your own business: The Mommy Doctors, Drs. Lennox McNeary and Cheri Wiggins created Milkin’ Cookies to provide optimal nutrition for nursing mothers.

Whatever your passion, there is a good chance you can integrate it with your healthcare career.  For our many cooks and bakers, there is an excellent chance you can serve others while building your cooking knowledge and skills — and you are always welcome to share with staff at your undergraduate institution!