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‘I'll never be the same’: the impact of an international elective

14 February 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 3



many undergraduate student nurses have the opportunity to undertake an international elective—that is, a placement in another country. The benefits of undertaking an elective include developing cultural competence, understanding different healthcare systems and experiencing a different culture.


the aim of the study was to evaluate the impact of a faculty-structured international travel elective to Zambia for undergraduate UK nursing students.


a descriptive phenomenology approach was used to discover and explore the students' experiences of their elective.


6 students participated in semi-structured interviews. Themes that emerged included the importance of preparing for the elective, different nursing cultures, realities and patient safety concerns.


this study found that students involved in an international elective to Zambia overall had a positive experience but did report some challenges; the findings contribute to the body of evidence relating to international electives.

Since 2015 Birmingham City University has had links with the Lusaka College of Nursing in Zambia. Undergraduate nursing students in the adult nursing field, supervised by two lecturers, were given the opportunity to work alongside students at the Lusaka College of Nursing. The university-structured elective was supported by Birmingham City University's internationalisation agenda and provided an opportunity for undergraduate students to experience different healthcare environments, develop cultural competence and understand international nursing. It also allowed the faculty to build links with other partner organisations. This article will evaluate this experience, with the aim of raising the profile of international nursing and the impact of international electives on students, the wider faculty, the university and beyond.

Undertaking an international elective has been identified as having a long-lasting effect far beyond the period of the actual stay overseas and has been widely acknowledged as having a positive impact on practice when individuals return to the UK (Carter, 2015; Simms, 2016). For qualified nurses the benefits of working internationally has been widely acknowledged. In 2015, 96% of 339 volunteers who had been working in the developing world self-reported or demonstrated improved clinical and leadership skills (Haines, 2016). In addition, electives help students develop resourcefulness, cultural competence and resilience (Crisp, 2007).

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