Pursuing medical studies outside of one’s home country has become increasingly popular. Countries that host large numbers of foreign medical students include China, Poland, Romania, Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, and New Zealand, among others. For example, 25% of all medical students in Poland are foreign medical students and in Ireland, 50% of all medical students are foreign medical students (OECD, 2019; OECD, 2021). The opportunity to explore a new region of the world and obtain a widely-recognized medical degree are some benefits of studying medicine abroad. However, foreign medical students face many challenges that often render it difficult for them to enjoy their studies and the new experiences it brings.
Of the many challenges faced by foreign medical students, increased susceptibility to depression and anxiety disorders is the most prevalent (Ruzhenkova et al., 2020). Due to the high-demand and high-stress nature of studying medicine, medical students experience depression and anxiety disorders much more often compared to the general population. Given the added challenges that foreign medical students face being isolated outside their home country, these students are at an even higher risk of depression and anxiety disorders (Buzoianu et al., 2016; Machul et al., 2020). Personal stress, lack of support, language barriers, financial issues, different curriculum structure, and separation from loved ones are just some of the numerous risk factors foreign medical students must handle (Georgieva et al., 2017; Rashid et al., 2020). In addition, all of these issues contribute to the higher dropout rates and increased number of semesters required to complete a medical degree seen in foreign medical students, which only exacerbates the risk of depression and anxiety disorders even more (Huhn et al., 2015).
In a study by Henning et al. (2012) which focused on the quality of life of foreign and domestic medical students in New Zealand, researchers found that foreign medical students rated their social and environmental quality of life significantly lower than their domestic classmates. Notably, foreign medical students rated their level of satisfaction with their personal relationships and social support lower than domestic medical students. Foreign medical students also felt less safe and secure in the region they study in, had less opportunity for leisure activities, and had less access to information which would be helpful for their daily living, compared to domestic medical students.
A group of ICMDA members and volunteer researchers have begun a research project to explore the current context of foreign medical students around the world. The purpose of our research project is to understand the challenges faced by foreign medical students in order to determine how to better support these students. ICMDA organizations are present in the majority of countries who send or receive foreign medical students. With ICMDA’s reach across so many regions, there is an incredible opportunity at hand to coordinate reaching out and supporting foreign medical students in the ways they need it most. Awareness and understanding of the challenges foreign medical students face is crucial to propelling change. By understanding the challenges they face, initiatives can be put in place to address these challenges. Such a coordinated support could help many students and young graduates who are finding this phase of life difficult.
Our research group has put together two questionnaires – one for foreign medical students and graduates, and another for ICMDA fieldworkers and ICMDA national leaders. The links to the questionnaires have been emailed to the appropriate groups and will be open for completion until mid-October of 2022. These questionnaires are available in seven different languages. They include questions specific to the target audience with the overarching goal of gathering information about the current context and challenges faced by foreign medical students. If you are a foreign medical student, foreign medical graduate, ICMDA fieldworker, or ICMDA national leader, we strongly encourage you to complete our questionnaire through the links below to help us in our research.
Links to Foreign Medical Students & Graduates Questionnaire (by language):
Links to ICMDA Fieldworkers & ICMDA National Leaders Questionnaire (by language):
Additionally, members of our research group are in the process of interviewing foreign medical students, foreign medical graduates, ICMDA fieldworkers, and ICMDA national leaders to listen to their personal experiences and wealth of knowledge on the subject. By speaking to these individuals, we are also learning about the current supports in place and which supports would be beneficial for students in specific regions. If yourself or someone you know is interested in being interviewed for this research project, please reach out to Dr Santhosh Mathew to get more information.
Our heart for this research project is that no foreign medical student would struggle alone. Studying medicine is an extremely difficult and demanding period of one’s life, and journeying through those years in a foreign country adds countless challenges. Please stay tuned for the publishing of our findings in the coming months. We pray that this research project would ultimately bring Christ glory and empower organizations to strengthen foreign medical students all over the world.
- Buzoianu, A. D. et al. (2016) ‘Correlates of depression, anxiety and stress among foreign medical students studying general medicine in Romania.’, European Psychiatry, 33.
- Georgieva, L. et al. (2017) ‘Environment for the immigrant medical staff and foreign medical students in Bulgaria’, European Journal of Public Health, 27(suppl_3). doi: 10.1093/eurpub/ckx186.139.
- Henning, M. A. et al. (2012) ‘Quality of life: international and domestic students studying medicine in New Zealand.’ Perspectives on Medical Education, 1(3). doi: 10.1007/s40037-012-0019-y
- Huhn, D. et al. (2015) ‘International medical students – a survey of perceived challenges and established support services at medical faculties’, GMS Zeitschrift fur Medizinische Ausbildung, 32(1). doi: 10.3205/zma000951.
- Machul, M. et al. (2020) ‘Lifestyle practices, satisfaction with life and the level of perceived stress of polish and foreign medical students studying in poland’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(12). doi: 10.3390/ijerph17124445.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2021) Health at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, OECD iLibrary.
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2019) Recent Trends in International Migration of Doctors, Nurses and Medical Students, OECD Publishing, OECD iLibrary.
- Rashid, M. A. et al. (2020) ‘“Doctor, teacher, translator:” International medical students’ experiences of clinical teaching on an English language undergraduate medical course in China’, Education for Health: Change in Learning and Practice, 33(1). doi: 10.4103/efh.EfH_212_19.
- Ruzhenkova, V. V. et al. (2020) ‘Prevalence and dynamics of depression and anxiety in local and foreign medical students for a 6-year training period’, International Journal of Early Childhood Special Education, 12(1). doi: 10.9756/INT-JECSE/V12I1.201044.