How It Works
International Medical Aid (IMA) has a primary mission of providing health care assistance to people in areas of Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. This care is life-saving in environments that don’t always have the best medical resources for their people. We offer programs to both healthcare practitioners and students that will be life-altering. We offer opportunities in the regions who are most in need.
IMA is more than just doctors of different specialties working in the parts of the world that are most in need. Our goals are to help the next generation of healthcare professionals get off to the right start by offering them life-altering opportunities during their pre-healthcare educational times. The types of experiences that will get you into the best medical schools while providing you with an experience of a lifetime. The kind of experiences that will give you an edge once you enter medical school, and contribute to helping you begin to form your lifetime network of medical professionals.
It isn’t easy to get into medical school these days. It is highly competitive, and those individuals who can show their passion for science are the ones who are most likely to truly succeed. You need to ask yourself what it is that you want to gain from your pre-med or pre-nursing clinical experience. There are numerous paths you can take. You can go through the training and become an emergency medical technician, nurse’s aid, or ER tech. There, you will get a good idea of what western medicine is all about in a clean and sterile environment surrounded by the latest expensive scanner and endless supplies of medical equipment.
But what if you were to, instead, observe the tougher part of medicine. The part where there aren’t always the right scanners available, or as many supplies as you might need? What if your patients lacked access to basic health information? What if you could observe the compassion of doctors who go the extra mile to treat these people even though they know they might not have access to supplies or technology that they need? What if you could be a part of something as rewarding as giving of your time while at the same time learning valuable lessons?
What if, during your clinical experience you were able to truly make a difference? What if you had the opportunity to shadow a doctor as he or she treated a patient with conditions that most doctors will only read about in a textbook? How valuable would it be to learn from these doctors practicing in what can only be considered the most basic of hospital facilities? What kind of knowledge can be gained by learning about medical treatment in countries that are considered “third-world”?
Benefits of Shadowing
International Medical Aid’s shadowing program benefits everyone involved. It benefits the student by giving them access to observing the day-to-day activities of healthcare professionals. It has the added benefit of benefitting the healthcare professional by giving them the opportunity to teach professionalism and the ethical considerations involved in the practice of medicine. Shadowing is an important activity for the student as it gives them a taste of the reality of a medical career; especially when the shadowing is provided in an atmosphere that presents opportunities for innovative medicine due to lack of necessities. This allows the student to observe resourcefulness in medicine at the most basic of levels. The AAMC guidelines for ethical clinical shadowing are followed throughout the experience. It is important to remember that the student is there only in an observational presence and will never participate in any activity that could be construed as practicing medicine.
At no time during the shadowing experience will the student take part in any direct activity that is considered to be practicing medicine. Practicing medicine, for this purpose, can be defined as an activity where diseases are diagnosed, given treatment, administration of medicine as part of that treatment, performing procedures or providing advice regarding either a condition or a procedure. Failure to honor these observational guidelines is a violation of the ethical code that guides the rights and privileges of the doctor, students, and patients alike.
The most important part of shadowing is that it reinforces your interest and need to be a part of the medical community. IMA only accepts candidates who are confident of their career path and who are ready to focus on the aspects of a medical career.
At IMA, we want your clinical experience to feed your passion for medicine. We believe that by providing you the opportunity to take a volunteer internship in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Peru, will allow you to grow in ways that most people can only dream of.
Since 2012, we have had a presence in East Africa, in the areas of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The poverty levels are much too high and there is still a significant shortage of resources available. While in many ways, conditions are improving, it is our goal to maintain a consistent presence of mobile and stand-alone clinics, hospitals, and a strong network of international doctors and other healthcare staff to design the best programs for those areas. IMA develops cultural bridges between tribal leaders and the governmental entities to be able to provide ongoing care in the areas we serve.
These areas all lack infrastructure when it comes to healthcare. Even those hospitals that are considered to be more modern for the region are lacking in supplies and technology. Despite the fact that they are, in many ways, no longer considered a third-world country, locations such as Kenya are still overrun with communicable diseases such as Malaria, Hemorrhagic Fever and HIV/AIDS. All safety precautions are taken when dealing with these patients.
Beyond treatment, we provide the means to educate the people of these areas. The basis of our organization was to provide access to resources in the areas of medicine and hygiene in populations most in need, and we keep as close to our roots as possible.
The challenges in Haiti are well documented due to the devastating earthquake in 2010 which brought an already seriously impoverished area further elements of devastation. This area is our most recent target to provide the medical interventions that we have brought to other countries.
In Haiti, we are still at the stages of surveying the areas for its most important needs. We are still developing relationships there although our growth in the area has been expedited.
The challenges in Haiti are very similar to those we see in Africa. Incidents of communicable diseases are high and there are vast shortages of supplies and medical facilities. Unfortunately, the publicity that brought in funds shortly after the earthquake has slowed leaving the country in dire need of care.
IMA began its mission to bring medical care to underserved areas in 2012 in Ecuador. While we have been present consistently there, they are still lacking in health care. Despite growth in the region, less than half the population has access to medical care. The country is still considered the poorest in Latin America. While there have been policies and regulations set in place there, corruption has halted the gains that could be made. There is a Universal Health Care system in place, but due to corruption, and fragmentation, there are too many areas still lacking. For example, while the growth can be seen inside the cities, there are still serious deficits in the healthcare provided to the indigenous people. There are still areas so severely underserved that there is an estimate of only 1.5 beds, not to mention doctors, to care for every 1,000 members of the population. Infant mortality is probably the area that suffers the most with those numbers being the highest in South America. The growth and development of their healthcare system, while rapidly growing, seem to ignore those who are lacking it.
Our efforts have extended into Columbia which is in a transitional state. There are an estimated 6 million members of the population who are displaced due to the violence across the country. Their medical needs, while in areas due to the shortage, are also due to the country’s recovery from their past. Beyond the normal healthcare needs, the country is beginning to deal with large numbers of medical conditions normally found in the more developed regions of the world. Incidents of obesity and heart disease are growing and demand treatment. There is also still a substantial lack of education when it comes to hygiene and medical care in general. Countries do not recover from 50 years of civil war as quickly as we would all like.
The needs in South America obviously differ greatly from those in Africa and the Caribbean. Ultimately, they all are in serious need of our care. As long as there is a need for medical intervention in countries less resourced than the US, the longer we will be in need of interns that support our efforts.
Our goal is to expose you to different cultures. Since IMA operations are scattered across the globe, it is important to realize that your experience will be a lot different from region to region. The cultural needs of one country might be either very similar or very different from others.
Kenya is a great example of needing to be aware of cultural differences. A large percentage of the population is Muslim and their religious requirements when it comes to medical treatment and lifestyle, in general, are extremely strict. For starters, the females are only able to consult with female medical providers while the males may only seek treatment from male providers. There are modesty issues where male staff may never come in contact with a Muslim woman who is undressed or even unveiled.
The cultural immersion in Columbia can provide a different experience as their transitional state places you in an environment where you see may patients from extreme poverty suffering from malnutrition. However, you will also see patients from a different social class whose lack of education and nutritional knowledge might leave them suffering from obesity and heart disease due to their newfound lifestyle.
Cultural immersion will also help you develop your bedside manner as to how to approach a patient based upon their situation. Muslim patients encountered in Kenya are a perfect example of this. A female medical worker treating a Muslim man would be an insult to the patient.
Cultural experiences of these types also help you develop resourcefulness as you learn when and how to ask for help. As time goes by during your internship, you will discover increased confidence in your patient interaction. Your mentors can be excellent guides in this area.
Preparing For Cultural Differences
Getting to know as much as you can about the region that you are traveling to before you arrive can be very helpful. The cultural immersion can be much more rewarding if you have prepared for the possibilities that can present themselves with exposure to new experiences.
Each area has a breakdown of varying indigenous people, religions, and cultural norms. You can learn a lot of this information online or through books or resources advised by their embassy. These areas are proud of their culture and look forward to sharing it with you. The more you can learn, the more prepared you might be for any eventuality.
Preparing You For A Career In Healthcare
Our goal is to provide you with broad exposure to the various areas within medicine and healthcare. An IMA volunteer internship will introduce you to the nuances of the healthcare field. You will find yourself developing your bedside manner with the patients. You will shadow doctors, observe surgeries, and begin to form your personal network with those you encounter in the healthcare field. This will include your mentors, personal counselors, and other students in your group.
Areas of Medicine
It is our goal that your exposure to different areas within the field of medicine can give you meaningful insights into them. Pre-meds and aspiring physician assistants will have the opportunity to shadow and observe physicians of different specialties. Rotations routinely begin in the Emergency Department or the Maternity ward when our interns shadow through prenatal, labor and delivery, and limited postnatal activities.
For those with a career focus in the field of dentistry, our goal is to give you access to the care provided in those fields. The opportunities to strengthen clinical skills and specific skill sets while focusing on your educational background can provide you with incredible opportunities to grow your knowledge.
If you are a nurse or a nursing student, a volunteer internship abroad can be a life-changing experience. Nursing students can shadow nurses as they work in local hospitals and clinics. If you have already graduated, we can always use nurses looking for an experience of a lifetime administering top-notch health care to those in need.
Physician Assistant students have the opportunity to shadow a Clinical Officer Mentor. This is the equivalent position of a Physician Assistant. This shadowing opportunity will allow you to work in a challenging environment as you gain the skills that will enhance your future.
Students studying to become psychologists, psychotherapists, and social workers are given the opportunity to shadow and mentored by mental health professionals. This internship can be extremely challenging as cultural stigma prevents many mentally ill individuals from seeking treatment. IMA is working hard to bridge the cultural gap and show the importance of getting to the cause of mental illnesses.
Malnutrition is rampant in every region that IMA has internships available. Either due to poverty or circumstance, dietetics is an important field. Shadowing our mentors and working in the mobile clinic in areas where a healthy diet can be challenging can prove to be a life-altering experience. One of the benefits of participating in this program is that you will have access to our Graduate and medical school admissions counselors upon completion.
Our goal is to give you the opportunity to observe and shadow physicians in the specialties that you have chosen to focus your career on or are interested in. These specialties include Emergency Medicine, OB/GYN, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and General Surgery. A further focus is available on the specialties of ENT, Epidemiology, Orthopedics, Ophthalmology, and region-specific tropical medicine. Physician-Assistant students will shadow a Clinical Officer, which is the Kenyan equivalent title.
Our goal is to properly introduce you to the etiquette involved with patient interaction. By directly interacting with the patients, you will begin to develop your own style of bedside manner. The patient always comes first, and your interaction cannot be treatment or diagnosis of any type, but there will be opportunities to communicate regularly with the patients. This is where you begin to show the compassion that is leading you to want to become a member of the healthcare field.
It is important to remember that at no time are you to attempt to nor will you be allowed to perform any duties or answer any questions that reach above your level of training. You cannot diagnose, treat, or discuss a patient’s case with them. These guidelines are set in place by the Association of American Medical Colleges and protect both IMA’s liability as well as your own.
Our goal is to provide the communities that we assist with all of the support that we can. Beyond the walls of the hospital, each intern will participate in various community outreach activities. These can include visits to schools and community centers, homes for the elderly, or other groups. These can be teaching experiences where you demonstrate hygiene that is lacking among the population. This is where you will best develop more of your cultural education as you observe how your physician, dental, and nursing mentors interact with the population.
Our goal is to help you develop a thorough understanding of healthcare policy and observe the differences that exist between the various healthcare models in both developed and developing healthcare systems. Your lecture series will include the reasons why a system can be effective in one country but not in another. Seeing the comparison between various healthcare models is enlightening. Seeing some of them in action provides you with an incomparable experience.
Keeping You Safe
It is our goal to keep you safe during your internship experience. In each of the areas we serve, your residence will be in a gated community. Your transportation to and from the hospitals and clinics will be provided. Transportation to the area adventures and are resorts or restaurants deemed to be safe is provided as well. For your own personal safety, you will have IMA staff helping you during your visit.
Your Project Coordinator will be available to you 24 hours a day, and will probably live at the residence itself. Wi-Fi is always available at the residences and local cell phones will be made available to you.
Your needs will all be provided for at the residence. Your meals will be provided by a professional chef who will cook both local and American fare. You will have access to escorted tours of the area you are working in. You will need to be escorted whenever you leave the residence and will be transported to and from the hospital or clinics every day. Our goals are to keep you safe while you are there.
While it is recommended that you have your own health insurance, we do provide each intern with a $1,000,000 travel insurance policy which will cover most medical and dental costs, medical evacuation, lost luggage, and any other type of trip interruption. Our policy is considered to be the best offered by any of the many student travel companies in the United States.
Adventures Beyond Medicine
Our goals are to give you the opportunity to enjoy your downtime while you are on your internship. We have opportunities in each of our regions for tours of the various areas. For example, those who are serving their internships in Africa may go on a safari or to the region surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro. Those in South America might go to the sacred grounds of Machu Pichu. At IMA, we believe that each internship should be a well-rounded experience in every way, and enjoying the culture outside of the hospital is an important aspect of the experience itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
How is IMA different from other internship or study abroad programs?
Our programs uniquely combine intensive clinical shadowing, service learning, didactic experiences, and expert admissions support to help you advance your career in healthcare. With IMA, you have designated mentors and support available to you 24 hours a day looking after your needs. You are provided with a structured schedule of lectures, hospital rounds, community outreach, and clinical work. Your transportation is taken care of by our private drivers, and your personal safety is our priority at all times.
What are the requirements to participate in an IMA program?
IMA focuses our programs on students who are in the pre-health phase of their education or are actively in medical, nursing, dental, or physician assistant programs. We have found that our most successful internships come from those who are actively involved in a health-based education program, who have completed physician shadowing or medical volunteer programs at home, and who are capable of communicating what motivates them towards a career in healthcare.
How does an IMA internship abroad help me get into medical school?
Medical schools like to see that their candidates have gone the extra mile towards learning as much as they can about the medical profession. This is proven to them through volunteer work, working in the medical field prior to their pursuit or a medical degree, or the pursuit of opportunities that allow them to learn more about the field of medicine. An IMA internship gives an opportunity to shadow medical professionals in both the best and worst of environments. It helps you gain resourcefulness and a true realization of the importance of medical care throughout the world.
Are there any residency or citizenship requirements?
While we are a U.S.-based organization, we work with interns and volunteers from around the world and do not have any citizenship or residency requirements.
When can I go?
Our programs operate year-round and internship positions often fill up months in advance. You may view current Program Dates and Fees on our website.
How long should I go?
Most students participate in our programs for four to six weeks. We recommend that students complete programs that are at least two weeks long. Students seeking to gain exposure in several departments and/or specialties should consider spending at least four weeks in country.
Where does my money go?
International Medical Aid is a not-for-profit organization based in the United States. Your Program Fee is used to cover costs associated with your placement including arranging housing, transportation, food, mentor salaries, hospital fees and administrative costs. The remaining revenue is used to fund IMA’s Global Humanitarian Initiatives. This unique model allows us to continue providing vital medical aid to targeted communities in a sustainable way without reliance on outside donors.
What does your program fee include? Will there be additional registration fees? What other expenses should I plan for?
IMA’s Program Fees are inclusive of all in-country expenses; including accommodations, chef-prepared meals, placement related transportation, hospital fees, travel insurance, and unlimited wifi access; allowing interns to more confidently study abroad and enjoy their experience. Program Fees do not include international airfare.
Do you provide accident and medical evacuation insurance for interns?
In the case of an accident or a life-threatening illness, it is important for volunteers to have proper insurance coverage. A medical evacuation from a developing country could cost upwards of $100,000. IMA provides each of our interns $1,000,000 of accident and medical evacuation insurance at no additional cost. Please note that this coverage is extended as a courtesy and we still recommend that all students carry comprehensive health insurance, professional liability insurance (if needed) and trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage.
What will I be allowed to do in the hospital?
International Medical Aid strictly adheres to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Guidelines for Premedical and Medical Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad. We recommend that all prospective applicants review this information before applying. In succinct terms, our participants will not be allowed to do anything in our programs abroad that they would not be permitted to do in the United States or Europe. Our Pre-Medical/Pre-Health students will be strictly observing patient care and will have the opportunity to shadow the management of complex diseases that are not often found in the United States. Participants will gain experiential exposure to the differing healthcare delivery models found around the world, and will often be involved in IMA’s mobile medical clinics and humanitarian outreach programs. Additionally, our local physician mentors regularly conduct seminars on region specific topics in global medicine.
What does a typical work day look like for program participants?
Interns will typically spend 6-8 hours in the hospital and have downtime in the afternoons for activities and local excursions. Interns are welcome to participate in one night shift per week as well. Weekends are free for excursions or treks; alternatively, you are welcome to work in the hospital on the weekends. Once admitted, you will work closely with your Program Mentor to develop your program schedule. You may view a Sample Program Schedule on our website.
What kind of patient interaction can I expect if I am limited to shadowing?
Your patient interaction will be limited by the medical personnel you are shadowing and how much training and experience you have. You will neither be asked nor expected to do anything you have not been trained to do prior to your experience abroad.Everyone comes into this journey with different training. Your peers might be able to do more because they have the experience and training to do so. For example, if you have not been trained to draw blood, you will not be asked or expected to do so whereas one of your peers might work as a phlebotomist and will be asked and expected to help with blood draws regularly.There are some volunteer opportunities while on your journey that can provide you with more interaction, like teaching children how to brush their teeth or improve their hygiene. Everyone’s experience differs.
How can I get the most out of my shadowing experience?
The best way to get everything you can out of your shadowing experience is to ask a lot of questions and to keep a journal. Asking questions can serve more than one purpose: it can get you answers and it can help you bond with the doctor who you are shadowing. Any relationships you can cultivate with members of the healthcare profession can serve you well later, as these are the same people who will be writing you letters of recommendation for medical school. The journal you keep can remind you of the details of your observations during your volunteer internship.
What departments will I work in?
We generally start our volunteer interns in the Emergency Department, as this is the busiest part of the hospital. It is where most of the admissions come from, and can provide you the most rounded experience of what practicing medicine is all about. The second traditional rotation is in the maternity department. If your stay goes beyond two weeks, then we will work to place you in a department that mirrors your career aspirations. We offer rotations in anesthesiology, cardiology, epidemiology, general surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, orthopedics, and other specialties.
If I shadow a surgeon, what kind of experience can I expect?
If you choose surgery as an area of interest and shadow a surgeon during your time with us, you will have the opportunity to observe surgery while standing just a few feet away. You will not be taught procedures, nor will you be expected to perform any. However, for an aspiring surgeon, this shadowing experience can provide you with the knowledge that it is the right specialty for you.
What kind of challenges might I encounter that don't happen in hospitals and clinics at home?
The greatest challenge you may encounter would be a lack of supplies or equipment for diagnostics. This is where you will see medical care at its most basic. This is where a lot of our interns discover the most rewarding experiences. Seeing how doctors operate in the most drastic conditions can be the most rewarding of experiences.
What types of educational experiences can I expect beyond shadowing?
As part of the program, you will be attending lectures and simulations throughout your rotations in the morning hours and participating in medical and hygiene clinics during the afternoons.
What is the structure of your programs? Will there be in-country support? Will my family back home have a single point of contact in case of emergencies?
Interning in a foreign country can be a rewarding and life-changing experience but it can also be quite challenging. It is important for interns to assure their chosen organization provides structured experiences with ample local support. For families and loved ones back home, it is equally important that such organizations provide a single-point of contact that can be reached in case of an emergency. IMA’s programs balance structure with ample local guidance and 24-hour, U.S.-based support for interns and their loved ones.
How are flight arrangements handled?
Most interns prefer to book their own flights. However, our team in the United States can assist with your flight bookings at no additional cost. If you would like us to help, please let us know and we will take care of the bookings on your behalf.
What is your post-exposure protocol? Will there be post-exposure prophylaxis kits readily available? Are these kits included in the program fee?
The risk of exposure to infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS is often greater when working in parts of the developing world. Volunteers must assure that prospective organizations have established protocols in place in the event of exposure. IMA is committed to the safety of our interns and has developed stringent protocols and training programs, which work to minimize the risk of exposure. In the case of exposure, IMA has physicians on-call 24 hours a day to provide timely PEP at no expense to our volunteers.
What vaccinations will I need for trips to East Africa?
As for the pre-trip vaccinations and medications for malaria prophylaxis, we recommend that you consult your primary care physician or a travel medicine specialist for detailed information. We also recommend reviewing the CDC Health Information for Traveler’s to Kenya. If you or your doctor have any questions once you have examined this document, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.