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An Atlantis student on an excursion experiencing culture while studying abroad (Athens, Greece).

Study Abroad

5 Pros and 5 Cons of Medical Mission Trips: One Pre-Med’s View

Marissa profile

About Marissa

Marissa is a recent graduate of Clemson University where she received her B.S. in Health Sciences. During the summer of 2019, Marissa participated in the Atlantis shadowing program in Trento, Italy, and now works as an Alumni Representative with the company. She is currently applying to medical school where she hopes to become a primary care physician.

Pre-med students are often dedicated to making their applications as strong as possible. However, if you are like me, traveling abroad is another passion. Medical mission trips aim to provide medical volunteer opportunities abroad for a wide range of students and health professionals. Below is a list of pros and cons that come from volunteering abroad. 

Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

Short-term clinical experience

Since many medical mission trips only last a few weeks, this tends to be a preferable option for many pre-med students. Students who participate in a medical mission trip can travel abroad over the summer, gain valuable clinical information, and return home all before the school year starts! 

Develop a deeper understanding of global health and health inequality

By spending time in another country, pre-meds gain exposure to how different health systems have affected large groups of people. Additionally, students are able to witness health inequalities and how living conditions influence personal health outcomes. This eye-opening experience can have a lasting impact on future healthcare professionals. 

Engage in cross-cultural experiences

Unsurprisingly, there is great benefit that comes from interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. Traveling abroad and working with people who experience life differently s can help pre-med students become better global citizens and future healthcare professionals.

Easy to find a program that aligns with your expectations

Because there are so many medical mission trips that exist, it is not difficult to find a program that meets your needs. If you are more interested in faith-based medical mission trips, there are religious organizations to look into. If you want to travel abroad but do not speak any foreign languages, there are programs that do not require speaking additional languages. Take a look at a variety of  program options and their descriptions to help find what organization is right for you! 

Chance to connect with other religious students or healthcare professionals

For students who are religious, participating in a medical mission trip is a great way to connect with other religious pre-medical students. Building a support system with those of shared interests is a great way to form a network throughout the path to medical school. 

Drawbacks of Medical Mission Trips

High cost of entry

Students are usually required to pay for the program, which can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Additionally, not all programs include meals, lodging, or transportation, which means that students will have to pay for this out of pocket. Typically, this means that medical mission trips are often reserved for students who can afford it. However, there is information on different ways to pay for medical mission trips, and ways to make it work for all students.

The creation of unsustainable programs

Unfortunately, there are many programs that are more focused on profit than providing lasting services to local communities. A more sustainable approach is to help local communities build their healthcare systems so that they can take care of their own people without foreign assistance. FIMRC is an organization that upholds this tenant throughout their programs.

Programs may not comply with AAMC guidelines

Depending on the country you visit, regulations for performing procedures are less strict than the US and Canada. Because of this, many students have taken advantage of opportunities to gain clinical experience. Make sure to earn more about the AAMC guidelines to ensure that you do not pick a program that exacerbates this harm. Additionally, you can look into programs like Atlantis, where their program is dedicated towards following AAMC guidelines.


Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work. Volunteer vacations only last between a few days to a couple of weeks, meaning that volunteers miss out on opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of the country they are visiting. Additionally, since volunteers do not require pay, they often put local laborers out of work. Make sure you do not perpetuate the problems of voluntourism by taking the time to research the medical trip you are interested in.

Harm to the local communities

Many medical mission trips are designed to benefit the volunteer, not the community. This means that certain programs have the potential to damage local health systems or encourage reliance on outside assistance. Look into programs that aim to build lasting relationships in the community as well as empower volunteers.

At the end of the day, it is important that you take the time to weigh your options, as you ultimately want to choose a program that is right for you. For me, I chose to travel abroad through the Atlantis shadowing program. This was a great way for me to gain clinical exposure and new perspective, while also making sure to find a program that was ethical and prioritized the safety of communities abroad. 

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

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John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
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Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
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Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
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Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
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Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
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Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
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Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
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Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
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Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.