Objectives: To explore the host experience on international medical electives at a selection of hospitals in low- and middle-income countries in Africa. Outcomes of the study may inform and improve the preparation of global health curriculum, pre-elective training and debriefing for international medical electives.

Methods: A descriptive phenomenological study was undertaken, involving semi-structured interviews with ten elective hosts at seven study sites in three African countries. Purposive convenience sampling augmented by snowballing was utilised to recruit study participants. The data were thematically analysed and interpreted with reflexivity to generate an accurate aggregate of the experience of participants in hosting international medical electives.

Results: Six main themes emerged from the thematic analysis of interview data: international medical student contribution to host hospitals, host professional and personal fulfilment, barriers to student learning experience, international medical student preparedness, hope for reciprocity and barriers to cultural immersion and patient care.

Conclusions: Study participants described the experience of hosting international medical elective students as overwhelmingly positive. However, they highlighted issues such as barriers to students’ learning experience and the lack of reciprocity between host and sending institutions as areas which could be addressed to optimize the experience for both hosts and international medical students. An understanding of the host experience provides stakeholders with a clearer idea of what is important in preparation, organisation and evaluation of the elective experience. This study provides the impetus for further research to examine the effectiveness of introducing appropriate pre-departure training and post-elective debriefing to students embarking on international medical electives.


international medical elective, international medical student, host perspective, descriptive phenomenology, low- and middle-income countries

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