Centre for International Health
Medical student elective

Unique Global Health Opportunity

During their medical student career, students at the University of Bergen have the option of taking an elective course called “Global Health”.

Haydom field experience
Irene Slagstad

Main content

This option occurs after the students have had some years of studying together and when the class is split in half, with one half having to wait a full semester before they are able to continue their studies. In this “free” semester, the students have the option of taking the “Global Health” elective course.


This elective course began in 2008. Nina Langeland, now the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, worked with Ole Frithjof Norheim and others to establish the elective semester programme. Langeland explains that while many Norwegian institutions have been sending out students for global health placements in Africa over many years, many of the student experiences were sub-optimal because the students were simply not sufficiently prepared for such an undertaking.

Langeland says that she wanted to create a programme whereby the students would be taught beforehand something of the challenges they would be meeting at hospitals and primary health care centres in the African countries. In addition to some of the main global health issues, the programme would teach them something about war and unrest, poverty, migration, corruption, violence, gender issues and cultural differences. In addition it would teach them something about reflecting on their own prejudices and preconceptions as well as helping to understand how they themselves might appear to the people they meet in different cultures and social settings.

Field Work

The medical students first prepare for their 2-month field experience by taking courses with students enrolled in the Master in Global Health courses at the Centre for International Health. They then travel in groups to one of several “host” hospitals in a developing country in Asia or Africa. An increasing number of students have taken the course over the years and in 2016 over 30 students enrolled.

Professor Sven Gudmund Hinderaker overtook the leadership of the course from Langeland after the first couple of years. Hinderaker says that this year’s group, although the largest yet, was the “one of the best so far”! In October and November, they travelled to Vellore (India), Uganda, Sri Lanka, 2 places in Malawi and Tanzania. Working under the supervision of local doctors, the students are mostly based at hospitals, but they may also travel out from the hospitals to local health centres.

Hinderaker says that one of the best parts of the course is the final “exam” portion. Here the groups of students submit an essay about a topic they choose, and then each field site also share pictures of their experiences in plenaries with fellow students and teachers in Bergen.

Student Feedback

Feedback from the students underlines the positive nature of the experience.

“Should definitely keep this site as one of the choices for this elective (Uganda)”

“Experience exposed us a wide variety of different diagnoses and illnesses”

“It gave us a unique insight into the differences between living in cities versus the countryside”