Traveling Abroad? Here’s How to Stay Healthy

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Traveling abroad to explore working opportunities in the medical field is a superb way to broaden your understandings of different cultures, develop your communication skills, and encounter experiences that you are unable to have if you remained close to home.  However, there’s more to traveling abroad than just obtaining a passport and a plane ticket.  Consider these factors as you plan to travel abroad.  Your body and mind will thank you for it!

Updating Your Vaccinations and Getting a Physical Exam:  Throughout the world, there are outbreaks of deadly or debilitating diseases (such as polio) that that have been virtually eliminated in the US.  To ensure that you do not succumb to one of these life-threatening diseases, you’ll need to be sure that you have a full round of updated vaccinations. While you’re visiting your doctor, have him/her perform a physical exam to ensure that you are in the best health possible before you board the plane.  It’s a good idea to have your doctor order any necessary bloodwork as well to ensure that you are not harboring any unknown disease or illness.  Falling ill abroad can be expensive, complicated, and potentially deadly.  Be sure that your health is up to par before you leave the country.

Getting ready for some river rafting!Food and Water Safety:  You are sure to encounter new and exotic foods and drinks as you travel abroad.  Exploring regional cuisine is one of the best reasons to travel – the tastes, flavors, textures, and smells of ethnic food delight the senses.  However, be sure to monitor the safety of your food, and especially the quality of the water you drink.  Because your body is not used to these new substances, it may react violently, and you could fall painfully ill.  “Montzuma’s Revenge” is a well-known phenomenon for those who drink the water abroad.  Drinking bottled water and beverages is strongly advised.  Hot drinks, which have been boiled, are also recommended. Avoid contaminated water as you bathe, shower, or brush your teeth.  You never know its source or its contamination levels, so it’s best to limit your intake and exposure.

Mind Your Mental Health:  It is common for those pursuing a medical career to travel abroad alone.  Spending extended amounts of time alone, especially when you are not used to doing so, can be stressful.  You’ll want to pay close attention to the state of your mental health.  Isolation and the shock of being in a new, strange country can tax your abilities to cope with change.  If you’ve suffered from depression or anxiety in the past, traveling abroad could trigger a return of those symptoms; speak with your doctor ahead of time to ensure you bring any needed prescriptions for the mental anguish you might encounter. Additionally, if you have dealt with addiction in the past, you’ll want to be mindful of the opportunities for relapse. Alcohol and drugs are prevalent and accessible all over the globe, and in many countries, these substances are not closely monitored as they are in the US.  Be prepared to hold any past demons at bay; have your sponsor’s number at the ready in case you need to talk to someone you trust.

Students enjoying the hill tribe trek in ThailandThese are but a few of the many factors to consider before you travel abroad so that you can be safe and enjoy your time outside of your home country.  The Centers for Disease Control have an extensive list of warnings, advisories, and advice, so take advantage of the information from our premier health experts. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury

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