Global Health Education for Medical Students and Residents

Before you complete your family medicine residency or even finish medical school, there are ways that you can begin to nurture your interest in global health and prepare for service you may want to provide in the future. Here's how to get started.

For Medical Students

Integrating Global Health into Your Medical Education

Seeking out as many global health-related opportunities as possible during your time in medical school can help you clarify your vision for working and serving globally, and cultivate relationships through which you may contribute and be mentored.

Opportunities you should consider include the following:

  • Develop knowledge, skills, and understanding that will prepare you to work effectively in a global context. Learn more about how physicians prepare for global health »
  • Participate in your medical school’s global health track (if available). Getting involved in a global health track during medical school is strongly recommended. A well-designed global health track provides necessary background information and skills. It can also facilitate networking, which is key to short-term international rotations, and help you find individual mentors who can help guide your decisions.
  • Participate in activities that focus on local underserved populations and/or global health (e.g., journal clubs, courses, electives, service projects, service-oriented student groups, research)
  • Volunteer for a not-for-credit experience serving an underserved population during your M1-M2 summer, or during a fall, spring, or holiday break
  • Do a research project or a scholarly/capstone project focused on a population outside of the United States or an underserved population in the United States
  • Advocate for the value and relevance of global health curriculum and experiences to your medical school. For example, you could provide the dean and the family medicine chair with information about the value of global health experiences and curriculum for your development as a physician and the school’s achievement of its mission.
  • Get involved in your medical school’s global health-related student interest group (if available)
  • Lead your Family Medicine Interest Group (FMIG) in serving a local underserved population; you might want to partner with other student groups to develop a sustainable program.
  • Engage with your medical school’s office/center/institute for global health (if available)
  • Build a foundation for long-term collaboration by developing relationships with people and organizations involved in global health; tap into your medical school’s existing partnerships and relationships, if available.
  • Aim for a longitudinal experience throughout medical school
  • Use the AAFP global health resources and network
  • Cultivate relationships with mentors who can guide your development of abilities and attributes you will need to pursue your interest in global health

Finding a Family Medicine Mentor in Global Health

Finding a mentor can be a huge help in navigating the many questions you'll have as you become more aware of global health needs and opportunities. Here are some suggestions on finding a mentor for yourself.

  • Attend the American Academy of Family Physicians’ (AAFP’s) annual Family Medicine Global Health Workshop (information available at This conference is specifically designed to facilitate networking and is attended by experienced global health workers who have long-term involvement in specific cultures and countries.
  • Try personal networking. Ask colleagues, friends, and family members whether they know anyone who works in global health, and contact potential leads with emails and phone calls. The more connections you make, the greater your chances of identifying one or more physicians who would be an appropriate mentor.
  • Look for someone who is doing the type of global health work you would like to do or working in a region that interests you. Contact that person to share your background and aspirations.
  • Reach out to presenters at meetings or to authors of articles/books of interest. Ask for advice or offer to help someone with a project. People working in global health often find it rewarding to advise and work with those who are exploring an interest in global health.

For Residents

Preparing for Global Health During Family Medicine Residency

An accredited family medicine residency program provides ideal preparation for short- and long-term global health work. Family physicians are specifically trained to provide the care that is most needed in the developing world—care for patients of all ages that is comprehensive, continuous, integrated, community oriented, and team based. If you are seriously considering global health work, you should select a residency program that offers:

  • Support and guidance for interest in global health
  • A patient population that includes a variety of ethnicities, cultures, and languages so that you can become proficient in the use of translators and cultural interpreters
  • A robust global health track that provides additional training in tropical and poverty-related diseases, advanced procedural skills, and cultural competence; the opportunity to participate in global rotations; and a network of international contacts. Getting involved in a global health track during residency is strongly recommended.

Once you have started your family medicine residency, the following steps can help you prepare for global health work:

  • Develop competence in a team-based approach to medical care; attention to the whole family; preventive and community-oriented care; and provision of continuous care to a defined population
  • Develop specific interventional skills (e.g., procedures that are commonly performed at the primary care level in developing countries, such as repair of complex lacerations and interpretation of diagnostic ultrasound examination)
  • Find a faculty mentor or advisor who is involved in global health work and can help you prepare yourself and your family. A faculty mentor might also be able to help you use your global health experience to develop a scholarly presentation or paper.
  • Complete additional (e.g., fellowship-based) training in advanced obstetrics and gynecology (including c-section) or disaster relief. Although a fellowship is not essential for an effective contribution to global health, it can be helpful.

Family Medicine Residency Programs with International Rotations

The AAFP Center for Global Health Initiatives has compiled a director of family medicine residency programs that include international rotations. Search our free database to explore these programs.

Ways to Integrate Global Health into Your Residency Experience

Find your passion within global health. 

If you want to make a lasting impact in a global health setting, it is important to find your niche within the vast array of family medicine global health opportunities. It may take time and several different experiences to discover and develop your passion. You may find that you are drawn to a certain country, culture, language area, or area of need (e.g., maternal and child health, social determinants of health, disaster relief, policy, noncommunicable diseases). Be open to the many types of experiences that are available. If possible, explore them before you are committed to long-term employment.

There may be faculty mentors in your residency program who have experience in certain areas of global health. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) offers a directory of global health opportunities.

Attending conferences such as the AAFP Family Medicine Global Health Workshop also will expose you to many different areas of interest within global health.

Form partnerships. 

Once you find your passion, partnering with individuals and organizations that share your enthusiasm will further your interest and help you have a lasting, sustainable impact. Cultivate relationships by staying connected with particular organizations or international communities. If you travel, try to return to the same area so you can deepen your commitment to that population. Partnerships and connections will help you integrate global health fully into your career, and expand your capabilities in sustainable global health efforts.

Connect with others. 

There is significant interest in global health among family medicine residents in the United States and abroad. The World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca) Young Doctors’ Movements (YDMs) around the world connect passionate residents and young physicians in conversations about family medicine in global health.

  • The Polaris Movement for New and Future Family Physicians in North America is a YDM launced in 2014 that provides an international platform for medical students, residents, and new family physicians. Connect on their Facebook page(
  • Another initiative of the Wonca YDMs is Family Medicine 360°(, an exchange program for family medicine residents during their elective months. These four-week exchanges allow participants to travel to a country of interest and experience primary health care delivery in that setting.

Consider completing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. 

Proficiency in public health is becoming increasingly important in the global health arena, especially if you want to make lasting impact on prevention and social determinants of health. Some residency programs and fellowship programs pay for pursuit of an MPH while in training. Find out if your residency program is among them.

Explore fellowships in global health. 

It is becoming easier to find residency programs that offer a family medicine global health fellowship; however, there are currently more global health fellowships in emergency medicine (EM) and internal medicine (IM) than in family medicine. If this is the case at your residency program, talk with the fellowship program to find out whether these fellowships can be adapted to family medicine.

Explore electives in global health. 

Many residencies already have global health electives or tracks in place. If your residency does not offer these, consider creating your own global health elective in your area of interest. Most residency programs will accept your ideas for an elective, especially if you already have a relationship with the organization with which you will be working.

If you are unable to travel due to time or financial constraints, pursue or create electives locally that encompass global health ideals. Working with underserved or marginalized populations in your own community can create lasting positive changes. Remember, global health is not just international health; it includes efforts in your own backyard as well! Learn more about Domestic Opportunities in Global Health »