Individual students and institutions alike organize opportunities for travel and study abroad and need to know how to assess potential partners. For organizations creating study abroad programs, the purpose is clear, developing safe and quality opportunities for students to learn when abroad. For individual students organizing opportunities for themselves, or for a group of students, the purpose can sometimes be less clear and result in creating partnerships with organizations that are solely interested in making money.
The field of study abroad has been actively identifying quality partners for years. This rather new area in study abroad is the result of a growing interest in global health among both pre- health students and health professional students. As study abroad programs and organizations work to serve these students, they are faced with assuring that the programs in host countries have the capacity to guarantee the safety of both the students and the patients in those countries.
There are a few tools that help when reviewing organizations to assure they provide safe and ethical opportunities for students interested in internships, volunteering or other experiential opportunities when going abroad. One of those tools is the Forum on Education Abroad Guidelines for Undergraduate Health-Related Programs Abroad. The guidelines outline the expectations of any organization working with students who will be learning in health –related settings.
Another of those tools is the appendix for the NAFSA book "Internships, Service Learning, and Volunteering Abroad: Successful Models and Best Practices". On pages 10-12 in that document are a number of questions that can be useful when assessing organizations.
Yet another tool is embedded into the article by John Crump and Jeremy Sugarman "Ethics and Best Practice Guidelines for Training Experiences in Global Health". The article outlines a set of guidelines developed by the Working Group on Ethics Guidelines for Global Health Training (WEIGHT) for institutions and others involved in global health training.
The key is to ask the right questions of any organization to assure they are aware of the potential ethical issues, and have set up both processes and policies that guide their work with students and with host locations. AIEA has 'Ten Quick Tips for Working with Education Abroad Provider Organizations'.
"participants must ensure that they enter the experience with sufficient foundation to support a successful experience".
Ensuring a Quality Learning Experience
Keep in mind that the premise underlying study abroad is that students are going to learn, not do. While experiential learning can be an excellent way to learn, it needs to be done appropriately with high quality preparation and reflection. The National Society for Experiential Education identifies eight principles of good practice for experiential learning.
One particular note that is important is that "participants must ensure that they enter the experience with sufficient foundation to support a successful experience". Pre-health students frequently have little or no education and training in direct patient care, and are in no way ready or qualified to be providing medical care to patients. This is particularly true if the populations they are caring for are unaware that they are unqualified leaving patients vulnerable to exploitation.
When partnering with another organization to provide a learning opportunity for your students, it is essential to know what they will offer to students in the learning experience. Negotiating and discussing the expectations for an ethical and safe learning environment is the responsibility of the sending institution.