Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety (GAPS) Toolkit

Helping Students Make Ethical Choices

Helping Students Make Ethical Choices

Pre-health students often seek out patient-care experiences, perhaps because they have read admissions committees' statements regarding the need for students to have "clinical experience or patient-care experience." What students don't realize is that this does not mean providing untrained medical care, but rather engaging with patients in ethical and appropriate ways to learn about the patient experience and the environment they will be working in as a future health professional.

Traveling abroad to find opportunities to provide medical care as an untrained individual is unethical and unsafe. The student learning experience should not cause harm or stress to patients or the hosting community.

"As someone who has lived nearly 20 years overseas, in a variety of countries/settings/work opportunities, I have come to the conclusion that the most short-term volunteerism has limited local impact, and can potentially be deleterious to the local setting." - Dr. Stephen Swanson

Talking in India

Watch for Assumptions

Students who travel into resource-poor communities may make inappropriate assumptions about the situation and about their own capacity and level of contribution. Often students are unaware that the organization responsible for their experience may not be engaged with the health professionals in that community, and therefore they don't encounter the health professionals who work in that community. This can lead students to assume that there is no care, and that any care (aka students providing care) is better than no care. Students need to understand that if the issue at hand is a workforce shortage, supplying untrained students from another country,is not the solution and in most situations, it will probably exacerbate the problem.