My study explores the role of international rotations and international service-learning in American medical education from the perspective of those who are involved in the coordination of international rotations or other medical school electives. There is a recent rise in demand for international rotations in medical school, during which U.S. schools send medical students to another country for an immersive experience, but there is little research surrounding the characteristics, ethics, and institutional support for these types of rotations. This study will build an understanding of the characteristics of international rotations and to explore institutional factors that may drive or deter a medical program’s participation in international rotations, as well as barriers and facilitators to implementing international service-learning in medical education. Read more about it below.


Medical schools in the United States are increasingly including service-learning components in international rotations. A key component of service-learning, particularly in international contexts, is the development of cross-national partnerships that engage students in service-based experiences that promote mutual benefit. Medical schools face a situation in which international service-learning (ISL) experiences are creating new areas of uncertainty regarding procedures and institutional support structures, but also remain increasingly in demand by medical students and are being implemented in medical schools in the U.S. despite a lack of comprehensive understanding of how to create and support mutually beneficial relationships with ISL partners in host countries at the sending institutions in the United States. While many studies document the outcomes for students in service-learning or international service-learning, few studies have explored the institutional perspectives within the U.S.-based sending institutions, including organizational factors and the perspectives of stakeholders within medical schools.

This study examines the types of ISL programs that exist in medical education in the United States, and the barriers and facilitators associated with implementing international service-learning practices from the perspectives of stakeholders within medical education (i.e., faculty, staff, administrators). This study will also examine the larger contextual factors that influence a medical school’s decision to include ISL in its medical program.

Filling a gap

Lack of data on the impact that ISL has on the quality of medical education programs and their stakeholders, such as leaders, faculty, and staff, makes it difficult to justify the redirecting of institutional resources to sustain service-learning in long term reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships. Most existing studies have been related to student learning outcomes and ignore questions about other impacts on the community groups, which is concerning especially in international contexts. In addition, studies of service-learning, especially those situated within health fields, have generally failed to examine how service-learning initiatives impact institutions and faculty instructors. Scholars who have examined service-learning in the health professions have also noted the need to incorporate an organizational lens that considers organizational perspectives, including infrastructure requirements and institutionalization of new practices and the process of organizational change.

Andrew Furco (advisor)
Shailey Prasad
Chris Johnstone
Tania Mitchell (chair)

The University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board determined that the proposed  study is not research involving human subjects as defined by DHHS and FDA regulations.