Internationalization of Medical Education — Motivations and Formats of Current Practices

Anette Wu, Edward Choi, Mariette Diderich, Abrar Shamim, Zacharie Rahhal, Madeleine Mitchell, Betty Leask, Hans DeWit

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance for medical professionals to engage in work transcending national borders and to deeply understand perspectives of health in other countries. Internationalization of medical education can play a key role to that end, by preparing culturally competent and globally conscious medical healthcare professionals. The aim of this scoping review is to identify current practices and formats in internationalization in medical education, which to date has received sparse academic attention. The need for this review is heightened amid COVID-19 where a clearer understanding of current internationalization efforts can inform more effective practice. We also explore if the motivations driving internationalization activities in medicine align with current practice and formats based on a framework of thematic categories found in the field of international higher education. In addition, we identify gaps in existing research. Methods: Using a scoping review, an international and interdisciplinary research team employed a comprehensive search strategy to identify publications on existing efforts in IoME, published from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2020, in Scopus, PubMed/Medline, Google Scholar, and Web of Science. Inclusion/exclusion criteria were applied to identify relevant data from publication titles, abstracts, and main texts, which were subsequently summarized. Coding schemes were developed based on models for comprehensive internationalization in higher education. Results: 350 articles met the inclusion criteria. Most articles originated from the high-income countries of the Global North and accounted for a literature base favoring perspectives and understandings that were typically representative of this region. Whereas motivations for internationalizing medical curricula in high-income countries were generally rooted in a model of social transformation/justice/health equity, drivers relating to competition and workforce preparation were common in the low- and middle-income countries. Importantly, the motivations driving internationalization activities generally did not align well with reported internationalization formats, which included student mobility, international curricula at home, and global partnerships. There was a disconnect between what medical curricula/professionals hope to accomplish and the reality of practice on the ground. Discussion and Conclusion: There is a need for a common definition of internationalization of medical education and a more balanced and unbiased literature base, capturing the full spectrum of internationalization activities existing in both the Global North and South. International partnership frameworks need to equally benefit institutions of both the Global North and Global South. Currently, institutions in the low- and middle-income countries generally cater to the needs and interests of their high-income counterparts. There are concerns about student mobility from high-income countries to low- and middle-income countries. Finally, medical education should be more inclusive and all medical students should gain access to international perspectives and experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)733-745
Number of pages13
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jun

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Michael Fortgang, MD, for helpful review of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s) under exclusive licence to International Association of Medical Science Educators.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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