New Study Abroad Options for Pre-Health Students

by Varun Awasthi

Long hours in labs, volunteer work, and countless late nights studying functional groups or the cell cycle are just a few defining characteristics of the pre-health student’s lifestyle. When it comes to making one’s course plan as a pre-health student, it is a common belief that studying abroad is simply not possible beyond countries such as England and Australia. However, USC has recently approved two new programs specifically for pre-health students in Botswana and South Africa. Both of these programs offer unique course options with a focus on community health.

The Council on International Education and Exchange (CIEE) at the University of Botswana encourages students intending to pursue a career in health care to participate in the Community Public Health track. The courses in this track cover significant public and environmental health issues in Botswana. The core requirement includes a community health practicum in which students are assigned to local health sites with health promoters in underserved areas of Gaborone and the surrounding regions.

As part of the practicum, students spend one week at a rural clinic while living with a host family. During this time, students can gain a firsthand understanding of the health issues in rural Botswana. Students also have the opportunity to meet village leaders and are often invited to take part in traditional festivals and cultural activities.

Other components of this program include field trips and excursions to various sites in Gaborone such as the Jwaneng diamond mine and the Kolobeng ruins. A safari to the Okavango River Delta or Chobe National Park is part of the program each semester and integrates activities with a specific focus in public and environmental health.

All students at CIEE are required to take a Setswana Language and Culture practicum and are encouraged to become active in campus life through volunteer opportunities and student organizations. Students typically live in a University of Botswana residence hall or with a host family. The fall semester runs from late-July to December, while the spring semester is from January to May.

The Community Health and Social Policy program, based in Durban, South Africa, is run by the School for International Training (SIT). SIT provides its students with a multitude of learning opportunities through small seminars and lectures from policymakers and healthcare practitioners. Some of the main components of this program include the opportunity to shadow community health care workers and visits to public and private clinics, health-focused NGOs and schools for children with special needs.

In courses, students analyze the major public health issues in South Africa and consider the forces behind public health interventions. The courses in the first ten weeks of the program include Intensive Zulu, Approaches to Community Health in South Africa, and Provision of Community Health in South Africa.

Later on, students take Social and Community Health Research Methods which prepares students for an Independent Study Project (ISP). This is done in the last month of the semester and students have the option of writing an extended research paper or taking part in a practicum. In the practicum, students have the choice of working in a health facility or completing a research project in a specific community.

The program begins with an orientation in Johannesburg. The remainder of the semester is centered in Durban and students will travel throughout the region to gain a larger perspective on the cultural impacts on health. Accommodations throughout the semester may include host families in Durban and rural communities, hostels, guest houses and small hotels. The fall semester is from August to December, and the spring semester is from January to May.

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