Shadowing Abroad as a Premed with Gap Medics

Session 113

The Premed Years

If you’re considering getting a shadowing experience abroad, then you might be able to get a ton of information from this episode.

Ryan talks with Ricky from where he serves as the North American student placement manager, helping advisors, teachers, and parents set up placement abroad for students who are interested in shadowing medical professionals.

Something that’s unique to them, Gap Medics focuses on the pre-health student. They operate in Africa, Asia, and Europe giving students the opportunity to get to see another side of medicine, and better yet, the best side of medicine they possibly can.

Gap Medics is a company that puts together shadowing internships abroad for pre-health students (medical, nursing, dental, etc.)

If you are a highschool student listening to this and are trying to convince your mom and dad that shadowing abroad is safe, let them listen to this podcast as we also cover safety topics.

This  episode covers everything from costs to where to go as well as what Gap Medics can do for you on a personal level as well as when it comes to your application to medical school and how this forms part of your medical experience.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Ricky:

Things to look for:

Why hands-off?

Premeds aren't able to perform procedures so you only want students to ask questions and learn about what it's like to actually be a doctor.

The physicians:

  • Members of their partner hospitals
  • Good ratings, good medicine
  • Dedicated
  • English-speaking

Gap Medics programs are based on:

  • Locations that are friendly towards visitors
  • Those that offer a bunch of extracurricular activities for the students

Current locations in their program:

  • Tanzania
  • Croatia
  • Poland
  • Thailand

Age groups of students:

Above 16 years old (above 18 for some)

Ricky's take on nontraditional students who take the program:

  • They do well in this type of program.
  • They're dedicated.
  • Have taken time to think about what they want to do and things they're passionate about.
  • They have programs geared towards students over 18 with more mature experience and more leeway in exploring surrounding areas without supervision.

Duration of the program:

  • Placements in one-week blocks.
  • For each week the students join them, they get to observe a different specialty department under the guidance of a different mentor.
  • Program runs for 1-8 weeks with average being 2-4 weeks.
  • Most common short-term: 2-3 weeks.
  • Year-round program which begins every Sunday of the year.

A day in the shadowing life of a student going to (Croatia for instance):

Before students go:

  • Comprehensive pre-departure service
  • Online trip planner
  • Contact with staff over in the UK

Prep: Spoke to doctors about vaccinations needed and book their flights

As they arrive at the airport:

Students are met by a member of their staff who will transport them back to their accommodation

At the accommodation, they get their local orientations.

  • Learn about the area
  • How to navigate
  • Local ATMs and currencies
  • Culture in the hospital

Welcome meeting: Doctors meet in the morning and discuss the cases

Students break into the wards, shadow and meet the patients

In the afternoon, they sometimes scrub in and watch within the operating theater.

At the end of the day, they go back to the house.

On weekends, students go out and have a great time (safaris, jungle adventures, etc.)

Gap Medics' Global Health Tutorial:

Addresses issues specific to host communities (diseases, healthcare system, etc)

The benefits of a shadowing experience abroad:

  • Exploring different culture in different areas
  • Building camaraderie with peers from around the world
  • Medicine as a global field and disparities exist when it comes to healthcare
  • They get to join a major conversation going on right now about Global Health

Students who will get the most out of this:

  • Those looking for something defining about medicine.
  • Those looking for something that would push them towards their ultimate goals.
  • People who are considering a change of career such as the older students
  • High school students who are stepping into medicine for the first time
  • Those who want to explore both in the National Park or in the operating room

What Medical Schools are looking for from this experience:

  • The global health experience
  • Drawing comparison what they see at home vs. abroad
  • A much broader experience

Translating the experience into their application:

  • Naturally and organically tying those experiences to who they are and what it means to be a doctor
  • Often, they shadow in places where people don't have sufficient resources which will push them to want to help people.

The cost of the program:

  • Flights excluded
  • One week placement in Tanzania (for example): $1,740 – $4,740 for 4 weeks

Many students do fundraising and they are happy to offer FUN ideas to students in securing funds for their placements.

  • Skydiving to bungee jumping (adding fun to fundraising)
  • Sponsored activities and volunteering
  • Creativity is key.

SAFETY for students when abroad:

  • Begins at pre-departure: Telling students about their destination, what to expect, cultural differences, etc.
  • Meeting students right at the airport and transported back to their houses.
  • Exclusive guesthouses at all of their destinations with private security teams and enhanced security features
  • Doctors are trusted professionals within the hospitals which they work
  • Trained program managers and overseas staff trained by their head office staff
  • They NEVER outsource their operations.
  • They liaise with people from those who transport students to those providing activities
  • WiFi and houses located in areas with internet cafes
  • Overseas teams always in touch with operations and pre-departure teams
  • Students have regularly updated online profiles


Links and Other Resources

Gap Medics –

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Dr. Ryan Gray: The Premed Years, session number 113.

Hello and welcome to the Medical School Headquarters Podcast; where we believe that collaboration, not competition, is key to your premed success. I'm your host, Dr. Ryan Gray and in this podcast we share with you stories, encouragement and information that you need to know to help guide you on your path to becoming a physician.

If you're struggling with the MCAT and haven't figured it out yet, go to and download our thirty plus page report with tips and tricks to help you succeed on the MCAT. Also, if you are not part of our Medical School Headquarters hangout, go to and click join and I will add you to our private Facebook group where you can hang out with other like-minded premed students and share your miseries and share your successes with the rest of us.

This week I have Ricky from and Ricky is the North American recruiter for Or Gap Medics, I should say. Gap Medics is a company that puts together shadowing internships abroad for prehealth students. And this goes for medical, nursing, dental; kind of all of the normal prehealth students. Obviously I spoke to him today about more of the premed side since that's what we cover here. And we cover everything from costs to where you go, and if you're a high school student listening to this and you're trying to convince your mom and your dad that it's safe, let them listen to this podcast; we cover safety stuff and if you can be reached while you're over there, all kinds of other awesome topics about what Gap Medics does for you on a personal level, and then also what Gap Medics does for you when it comes to your applications and what it looks like to an admissions committee member and how it helps you kind of form that whole medical experience in your mind to put it down on paper and to talk about it during your interviews.

So a lot of awesome information and I hope you enjoy it, let's get to it.

Ricky, welcome to the show; thanks for joining us.

Ricky Persson: Thanks, Ryan, it's great to be here.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Why don't you talk a little bit about yourself and what you do at Gap Medics.

Our Guest’s Bio

Ricky Persson: Absolutely. So I'm our North American Student Placement Manager, and why I do is help liaise with advisors, teachers, parents in regards to setting up placements abroad for students who are interested in shadowing medical professionals.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's pretty awesome, how long have you been doing that?

Ricky Persson: So I've been at the company now for a little bit over a year.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Great. What- I'm going to just come right out and ask this.
What's the coolest place where a student can go with Gap Medics?

Ricky Persson: Well we don't really have a preference in regard to our destinations. It really has a lot to do with type of medicine you'd like to see. We operate in Africa, Asia, Europe; so the students get to see quite a bit of difference depending on where they'd like to attend. It would really- I would say students should go where they're most interested in seeing another side of medicine.

Shadowing Abroad

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright, very PC answer but we'll take it. Now Gap Medics is just one of many companies out there that do this kind of abroad shadowing for premed students. When a parent or a student or an advisor even- you said you work with them as well. When they're looking at working with a company and sending their student or their child abroad, what type of things should they be looking for?

Ricky Persson: I would say they should be looking for hands-off observational shadowing experiences. Experiences where they're going to be learning from doctors in real clinical environments, asking questions and interacting with consenting patients under the careful watch of professionals. The importance of mentorship is really key and that's something that's central to our programs over at Gap Medics. The main guideline I would say that students should check out is the Association of American Medical Colleges Guidelines for Premedical Experiences Overseas. So any student looking to shadow abroad should really read those very carefully and determine whether or not a program is appropriate for their level of experience.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting. You mentioned hands-off. Why hands-off?

Ricky Persson: Well at the early stage in their education premeds definitely aren't able to perform procedures; you don't necessarily want them in the operating room holding instruments or anything like that. What you really want them to do is ask questions and learn about what it's like to actually be a doctor.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting. I always see news of celebrities and athletes and other people go overseas and they're operating there. I wonder if that's just for the media or if they're doing stuff and it's just like, ‘Well there's nobody else doing it, so we're going to do it.'

Ricky Persson: Well something like that could be really detrimental to a student when applying to medical school. So that's something we try to make sure that they steer well clear or.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, that's good to know. So you're talking about going overseas to shadow a physician. Who are these physicians?

About the Physicians

Ricky Persson: So our physicians are members of our partner hospitals. We usually try to base our programs in locations that are friendly towards visitors, of course offer a bunch of different extracurricular activities for the students, and have good ratings, good medicine. Doctors who are dedicated and speak English, of course, our programs are all run in English. So we try to show students the best side of medicine that we possibly can depending on their destination.

Gap Medics Destinations

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. Talk about some of the locations where students can go. I know we briefly talked about it earlier where you kind of brushed around my best location. But what are some of the locations that you offer; are you thinking about offering any different locations in the future?

Ricky Persson: We're always growing and changing when it comes to our destinations. But right now we're offering placements in Tanzania, Croatia, Poland and Thailand.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, and all those locations offer very similar things?

Ricky Persson: Well they all offer a shadowing experience. When it comes to the amount of resources that any one hospital that they have, you'll definitely see less resources in a Tanzanian hospital, for instance than you would in a Croatian hospital.

Typical Students in the Program

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, interesting. What are the age groups of students that typically go abroad and do the shadowing?

Ricky Persson: We only accept students above the age of sixteen. Some programs only accept students above the age of eighteen. So we have high school students as well as preclinical students, usually undergrads or sometimes people a little bit older who are maybe already have a degree and are looking at moving into medicine, or are just sort of getting into the idea of a healthcare field for the first time.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. What about the older student? A lot of people that listen to this podcast are nontraditional students, so they're making a career change going back into medicine and looking at Gap Medics or another study abroad program- shadow abroad program. What is your take on older students, how well they do in these programs?

Ricky Persson: I think they do really well. I mean they're very dedicated and they've actually taken some time to think about what they want to do with their lives and they're pursuing something that they're truly passionate about. So we have programs that are specifically geared towards students over the age of eighteen so it's more of a mature experience. There's a bit more leeway when it comes to exploring the surrounding areas without supervision. It's definitely a great experience for them to go in, hang out with the doctors, see what they're doing, and then to be able to explore a fascinating culture and destination.

About the Program

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's cool. What's the typical length of these programs?

Ricky Persson: So we run our placements in one week blocks. And for each week that a student joins us they're able to observe in a different specialty department under the guidance of a different mentor. So our programs run anywhere from one to eight weeks with the average probably being between two and four weeks.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Is that pretty common through the rest- I don't know, I know you can't speak specifically about other programs but is that a pretty common length?

Ricky Persson: I would say the short-term placements are really popular just because students tend to be really busy and people in their Gap years also have a lot going on. Sometimes working other jobs, doing other shadowing experiences at home. So I think the short-term experience really speaks to a lot of people. There are some mission projects I think that last for a few months but we can definitely give students a very immersive experience within a few weeks.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. And what's the most common length?

Ricky Persson: Probably two or three weeks.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Two or three weeks is most common? Okay. And let's talk about a typical week. So if little Johnny is packing up their bags and getting ready to go to Tanzania and is ready to go. What's that typical process look like? Where they're first meeting somebody from Gap Medics and where are they flying to and all that stuff.

Ricky Persson: Right. So before our students go we have a very comprehensive pre-departure service that involves like their online trip planner, as well as contact with our staff over in the UK. So after they've prepped, they've spoken to their doctors about any vaccinations they might need and they book their flights; as soon as they arrive at the airport- they usually arrive in the capital of Dar Es Salaam for our students when they're flying to Tanzania, they'll be met immediately by a member of our staff who will help transport them back to our accommodation.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay.

Ricky Persson: And then after they're at the accommodation they'll get their local orientation so they learn a bit about the area, they learn how to navigate, they learn about local ATMs and currencies, and also culture in the hospital. At which point they usually start their first day at the hospital on a Monday. In Tanzania the hospital day usually begins with a welcome meeting, so the doctors will all meet in the morning and they'll discuss the cases that are going on and then the students will break into the wards, at which point they'll shadow in the wards, meet the patients and later in the afternoon will tend to do- sometimes scrub in and watch within the operating theatre. And then at the end of the day they go back to the house and something that is very specific to our programs, is what we call Global Health Tutorial. And the Global Health Tutorial tends to address issues that are very specific to our host communities. So we often do things like common diseases in Tanzania, or for instance the national healthcare system in Thailand. And then on weekends our students go out and have a great time. We do things like safaris, and jungle adventures.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay. So there's time for fun and adventures.

Benefits Outside of the Shadowing

Ricky Persson: Absolutely. I think a huge part of shadowing abroad, other than the medical side, is also being able to explore a different culture and a different area, and also the sort of comradery that you build with your peers from around the world. When you're doing a shadowing experience at home, you get the opportunity to build a lot of professional relationships that could help you advance within your career; but when you study abroad with someone, you're able to build a relationship that can help push you through med school. A support system that can really be there for you when you're feeling confused or you have questions or if you just need someone to talk to about your latest exam.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Okay, good I'm glad you talked about that because that was one of my next questions was really if it's hands-off shadowing, what's the benefit of going abroad. But when you talk about this in-depth experience and kind of immersive experience with the other students there's that experience.

Ricky Persson: Yeah. I mean shadowing abroad adds a completely different dimension to the understanding that a student would also gain shadowing at home. It really immerses students in the idea that medicine is a global field and that disparities exist when it comes to healthcare. And by being able to draw comparisons between their shadowing experiences at home, and those they've had abroad, pretty much are able to join a major conversation that's going on right now, and that's the conversation about global health. And it's great if they can do it together.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Who's the best student that you would want to see come and do this type of program? Who's the most successful at coming and getting the most out of it and turning around and using it to their best ability on their applications?

Ideal Students

Ricky Persson: Well I think it's really- some of our students call the program career affirming. And I definitely think that's an important aspect to the type of student that we want to bring in. Sometimes our students are torn between two different health careers, or they're not 100% sure if medicine is the field that they want to go into. So we want to see students who are looking for something defining about medicine. Something that's going to push them towards their ultimate goals. We want people who are perhaps considering a change of career; some of those older students. We want high school students who are really just stepping into medicine for the first time. The number one Gap Medic student would be someone who wants to explore; whether that be a national park in Tanzania or the operating room. We really want someone to want to do both.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I like that. Whether it be a national park- because I've been to Kenya and I've been on safari and it's amazing. We didn't go down into Tanzania- I keep saying Tanzania because that's what they call it over there. I'm saying it the fancy way. It's funny. So I wonder if somebody did a cost comparison- obviously you at Gap Medics and these programs aren't free, but I wonder if it's cheaper to go through Gap Medics or go through a safari company to get over there.

Ricky Persson: It's a good question, I can't really say, I'm not sure.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting challenge. Okay, that's great. Talk about some of the successful- if you can, some of the successful applicants that have turned their Gap Medic experience into something more.

Ricky Persson: So we have a lot of students who come with us for adventures, a few thousand every year. And the most successful students I feel are often students who haven't necessarily had a lot of shadowing experience before, or not necessarily built up their resumes to the point where they wanted them to be. So we've had students who have come with us with very little shadowing experience, and this has really been something that has driven them to find more opportunities to volunteer more, to get involved in healthcare more. So we've seen students in the UK for instance who have missed out on getting into med school in the first round, and who have gone on Gap Medics, found new inspiration, and were accepted in the next round. In the US we see the same stories. Students are feeling a little bit unsure about their applications, they come with us, and then they know for a fact that this is what they want to do and they have this passion that sort of pushes them forward.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Interesting. From an advisor standpoint, and I don't know if maybe you can answer this. But what do medical schools- what are they looking for in this experience that kind of puts them over the edge that they go, “Oh this is a great experience for you, we like this.”

Ricky Persson: Well as I mentioned earlier I think the global health experience is something that is different, it's exciting, and it pairs the idea of going to a different place; you know students go abroad all the time whether it be for Spring Break or visits with family, things like that. But to do a shadowing experience abroad allows them to again, draw those comparisons between what they see in other countries and what they see back at home. It creates a much broader experience, and something that other students aren't typically going to have all the time.

Shadowing Abroad and the Application

Dr. Ryan Gray: Do you- so one of the biggest challenges for premed students when they're applying to medical school, is interpreting all of their experiences and cramming it into the application. Do- it's true. Do you guys talk about that specifically with your students that are abroad, saying, ‘Here's how you want to talk about it during interviews, here's what you're going to want to talk about in your application.'

Ricky Persson: We don't really coach them on exactly what they're supposed to be saying in their applications and the interviews. What I think we do is we offer an experience that allows them to very naturally and organically tie those experiences into who they are and what it means to them to be a doctor. I mean often these students are shadowing in places where people don't have the type of resources that they'll have back home, and that's very inspiring for them. It pushes them to want to help people, which I think is core to the medical profession. It makes them feel more confident about their compassion and about their pursuit of learning. I think that's really important.

Dr. Ryan Gray: I think so too, I'd agree. That's awesome. So Ricky I mentioned earlier that these programs aren't free, can you give us a range of costs for students when they're thinking about this?

Cost of Gap Medics & Fundraising

Ricky Persson: I mean, absolutely. Our programs don't include flights just because our students do come from all over the world. But a one-week placement in Tanzania, for instance, runs at about $1,740.00 to anything up to $4,740.00 for four weeks; so it can be a bit pricey. But something a lot of our students do is fundraise. So we have a great fundraising pack and we're happy to give students ideas as to how they're able to go about actually securing funds for their placements.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Do you have any data on the percentage of students that actually get 100% fundraising?

Ricky Persson: I don't on hand, but I've had some really motivated students in the past who have done everything from skydiving to bungee jumping and they've raised quite a bit of money.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That doesn't sound like fundraising, that sounds like fun!

Ricky Persson: Well you know, adding the ‘fun' to fundraising is really important, and it's definitely something that can drive people to participate. So students will do like sponsored activities, they'll do sponsored volunteering, whatever they can come up with; I mean creativity is key. But lots of our students fundraise and quite a few of them have fundraised for their whole placement.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. So I'll ask- I have a ten-month old now and I'll ask the parent question here for parents that may be listening to this. Talk about safety for students when they're abroad. What type of measures are in place? Unfortunately we live in a society where this needs to be talked about.

Safety & Security

Ricky Persson: Absolutely. I would say safety and security are probably the most important aspects to a lot of the parents we speak with. So safety begins with pre-departure when we start telling the students about their destinations and what they should expect, cultural differences, the type of currencies they'll be using. Just making sure that they feel really prepared. Again, we meet our students as soon as they arrive at the airport and transport them directly back to our houses. Something that's pretty unique to our programs is that we run exclusive guest houses at all of our destinations with private security teams and enhanced security features like pin entry systems. And of course our doctors are all trusted professionals within the hospitals within which they work. So our students are supervised by them throughout the day. We also train our program managers and overseas staff using our head office staff, so our head office staff are always over, always abroad. A few of my colleagues are actually abroad right now working with the staff and training teams over there. So we never outsource our operations, we always try to make sure that people are members of the Gap Medics family before they're actually given any care of students. And then of course we liaise with everything from the people who transport our students to the people who are providing extracurricular activities, like the safari operators.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That's great. And is this a year-round placement opportunity for students?

Ricky Persson: Yeah, so our programs do run year-round and they typically begin every Sunday of the year.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Great. One other follow-up to the security and safety question. Are students reachable if they need to be?

Internet Access

Ricky Persson: Absolutely. So we have WiFi at all of our houses and we're usually located in areas where there are Internet cafes just in case the Internet happens to be spotty in a certain area. Sometimes in Africa the Internet isn't the best. But our overseas teams are always in touch with our operations teams and our pre-departure teams. So students have a profile online which is regularly updated, lets us know where they are in the hospital, what department they're in, who they're shadowing and what they're doing during their free time.

Dr. Ryan Gray: That sounds great.

Ricky Persson: Yeah, it's pretty immersive so I mean we really can keep good track of the students.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Is there anything that I haven't asked you about, about Gap Medics that you want to let me know and let the listener know?

Ricky Persson: Well I think you've touched on a lot of the important bases. I guess I would love to let your listeners know that we have some great stuff going on over Spring Break, we have a bunch of students joining us from all over the world; so check out our programs for then. And after that I guess check out our programs for summer. So lots of cool stuff going on this year.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright and it's

Ricky Persson: That's, yeah.

Dr. Ryan Gray: Awesome. Thank you Ricky for joining us.

Ricky Persson: Thank you Ryan, I really appreciate your time.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Ryan Gray: Alright again that was Ricky from I hope you got a ton of great information out of that. Gap Medics is interesting. We talked a little bit after afterwards about some other companies that are doing similar things, and I looked at some of the other companies and I'll have links to them in the show notes. It's no secret there are other companies out there, there's Projects Abroad, there's Rustic Pathways. And looking at these other programs- and I'm sure there are more that are similar, but Gap Medics really focuses on the prehealth student. A lot of these other abroad experiences for students are wide ranging. Yes, they have some medical programs, but they're focused in a lot of other things as well. So go check out and let them know that you heard about them here on the podcast so that they know that their time was worthwhile in coming and talking to us today.

So again I hope you got a ton of great information out of that. If you did and you haven't yet taken the time, go to and we would love a rating and review. Those ratings and reviews just do so much for us in iTunes that when people are searching for premed podcasts they are more likely to subscribe to our show.

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Alright, if you have any specific questions, continue the conversation at the show notes for this episode, You can shoot me an email, I am or say hi to me on Twitter, I'm @MedicalSchoolHQ.

As always I hope you got a ton of great information today, and I hope you join us next time here at the Medical School Headquarters.

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