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5 reasons you NEED to do an external clinical rotation abroad (and in English!)

5 reasons you NEED to do an external clinical rotation abroad (and in English!)

Doing an external clinical rotation in an English-speaking country can be one of the most terrifying and rewarding experiences you’ll do during your medical training and career.

Here are 5 reasons why you should do one!

1. You’ll learn about a different medical system and work culture

As you already know, each clinical rotation is an experience in itself: learning about other medical specialties, diagnosis and treatment approaches, how to use special equipment, interacting with patients, administrative procedures and working with other members of the health care team. Having that experience outside of your regular hospital and, even better, in another country (and in English!) will change you – and for the better. 

Talking about medicine in a different way

Doing an external clinical rotation abroad will also take you far outside your English comfort zone. Not only will you learn new vocabulary, slang and medical abbreviations in English, but you’ll also learn words that will be unique to that country, specialty or even hospital.

For example, a physician who has completed all of their training and residency in a specialty area and is working in a hospital (and typically supervises fellows, residents and other health professionals) is called an “attending physician” in the US and Canada and a “consultant” in the UK.

Emergency Department Sign. An example how medical language can differ in different countries and why external clinical rotations can be beneficial.
Depending on the country, emergency care can be provided in the Emergency Room (ER), Emergency Department (ED), Urgent Care Department or Accident and Emergency (A&E)

Working differently

The way the medical team interacts can differ too. In some hospitals, all levels of the medical team from the attending physician to medical interns are encouraged to speak and give an opinion. In other hospitals, the attending physician typically talks the most during the rounds.

Multi-disciplinary teams made up of doctors, nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists, psychologists, social workers and more are not uncommon in many hospitals in the US and in Canada. They may be less typical in your country or with less variety of professionals on the team.

Discovering your preferences

You might even realize you prefer some of the ways of working in your country. In the US, medical specialists commonly work tiringly long hours for their famously high salaries. Maybe you’ll discover you prefer a more balanced schedule with time for other things, even with a lower income.

Whatever you notice, you’ll bring these insights back with you and change the way you interact with and see other health professionals, your colleagues and even your patients. You’ll never see some things the same way again – I promise.

2. You’ll increase your opportunities and maybe even start on a new career path

Time abroad changes everyone and in so many ways. Being exposed to things you may not have known existed before can be a game-changer. It’s not uncommon to discover a new specialty or see your own specialty in a new light. Maybe you’ll decide to do another subspecialty, realize you would like to spend a few years more away or perhaps find that salaries or career advancement opportunities are better where you go.

One of our students did a one-year cardiothoracic fellowship at Freeman Hospital in the UK. Afterward, he came home to Spain to create and lead a new specialized cardiac transplant service in his previous hospital.

Another accepted a one-year research fellowship in oncology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre (through Harvard University’s International Research Initiative). She had this opportunity after doing a 3-month clinical rotation at the Dana Faber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Picture of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston. One of our alumni did an external clinical rotation here.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston ©1995 Richard Mandelkorn

At a minimum, you’ll have an incredible experience to add to your CV and maybe influential letters of recommendation. Both can help you stand out and get the position you really want.

3. You’ll expand your professional network

You have surely heard how important networking and connections are in business. Well, they are equally critical in the medical, health and science fields too. Collaborating with others on research studies, clinical trials, committees and task-forces leads to more opportunities, publications and contacts.

Doctors chatting while having lunch together - a great networking opportunity.
Networking is not just for business executives

Building your reputation

Have you ever wondered how some medical professionals become so well known in their field? You need to be good at what you do, of course. External rotations, observerships and fellowships are incredible for making the types of connections that can take your career to the next level.

Going to congresses and meeting up with colleagues you met while you were away is exhilarating. You never know where it can lead – bit by bit your professional network is growing and now on an international scale.

4. You’ll learn about people (including yourself and patients)

You know how to interact with patients by now and how they typically act when they are sick, worried, nervous, in pain, receive bad news or even good news – it’s universal, isn’t it? Spend some time in another hospital and in another country and you’ll quickly find that people and cultures are much more diverse than you thought. You’ll be more sensitive to subtle differences in people’s behaviour and ways of expressing their symptoms or concerns – honing your observation skills even more.

Observing unexpected cultural differences

You’ll realize how cultures differ considerably in how they perceive their relationship with their doctor. You will see how people interact with each other differently depending on income, gender, race, education and socioeconomic status. The formality or informality of these relationships, how patients ask questions (or not), the types of advice and amount of contact they expect as well as how involved individuals are in their own health can vary – you will be surprised.

You’ll learn to be more open and observe before acting, especially in new situations. You’ll realize that how people react to you can be very insightful. For example, if a patient stops talking or seems unusually surprised, perhaps you are acting in a way they aren’t used to from their medical doctor – it’s probably a sign of a cultural difference. In time you’ll see your approach and abilities change – making you a better practitioner abroad and back home.

5. You’ll practise your English in real-life situations

When learning a language, nothing beats the reward of being about to use it for real. Sure it is scary and if you are anything like me, it takes time to relax enough to try using the language – including in both professional and social contexts. But what better way to do it and get past those nerves than putting yourself out there when you don’t have a choice. At some point, you’ll have to ask someone how to take the bus, how to fix a leaky tap, where to find the hospital’s human resources department or answer a question during rounds. All that work on pronunciation, grammar, and listening skills will now pay off.

Taking a group selfie on a hike. Doing fun activities with other English-speakers while on an abroad is a great way to practice English.
Do things you enjoy to meet new people

Reinventing yourself

You’ll likely realize it is harder than you thought it would be, but you’ll improve really fast, especially if you take advantage of every opportunity. It is not easy, but my best advice is to find chances to do what you enjoy. It is often easier to be brave and try new things when nobody knows you – I dare you! 

Two Bonus tips: How to improve your English abroad without really trying

Bonus tip #1: Go to medical lectures, grand rounds, meetings, and case study presentations

Even if you don’t talk, you’ll be working on your listening skills with different accents. You’ll learn new medical vocabulary and will sharpen your pronunciation and spelling by repetitively seeing these new words and how they sound (it’ll be like passive learning). You’ll meet people in your field and practise your small talk skills. Look at the bulletin boards near your department to see what things are coming up and then ask if others are going and join them. Don’t be shy.

Bonus tip #2: Say “YES” to cultural and social activities – especially with English-speakers  

Socializing can be stressful, and even more so in a different language and culture. You are likely to be more outgoing while you are away than when you are at home. You are excited because of the adventure – take advantage of that energy (even nervous energy). Whenever possible, hang out with other English-speakers. What an amazing opportunity to make new friends and practise! It will get easier. Just find something you want to try and go for it. You’ll get braver and braver, your listening skills and speaking will soar, and you’ll have so much fun.

Let’s recap the 5 reasons to do an external clinical rotation abroad (and in English!)

You should do it because you’ll…

  1. learn about a different medical system and work culture,
  2. increase your opportunities and maybe start on a new career path,
  3. expand your professional network,
  4. learn about people (including yourself and patients), and
  5. practise your English in real-life situations.

Are you preparing to spend time abroad for work, a rotation, study or a fellowship in the next 6 months to a year?

Are you looking for a medical English teacher with classes online or in person?

Get more out of the experience and increase your confidence before you go. Contact us here for a free no-obligation consultation to talk about your goals and how we can help.

Ask us about our work abroad intensives.

Already been abroad? Tell us what you learned from that experience in the comments below.