Traveling the World as a Physician

Discussion in 'Medical Students - MD' started by docscience, Jun 16, 2008.

  1. docscience

    docscience AZCOM (Junior Member)
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    I have always been interested in traveling to many parts of the world as a practicing physician...
    I would have to work in the US for 3-5 years and try to pay back my debt...(probably around 200 K) then go on my world journey...
    I want to be a citizen of the world (please don't take that literally..you know what I mean).

    Is this even possible?

    What specialty would lend itself to a wandering/traveling doc?
    I can't decide if I would have better luck being a physician well versed in general medicine or a super specialty with which I can find all kinds of jobs anywhere....? (i.e. infectious disease/internal medicine vs. laparoscopic surgery)

    I love to learn languages, learn new cultures, etc. and the best way to do it is to actually be there in my opinion....

    I would even love to work in administration and/or health care policy systems...perhaps work for the WHO? the CDC even? NATO?

    This is mostly due to my passion for traveling...who knows what other priorities I will have such as wife, children, their education, loans, etc. I am just a M2, what do I know about all that? haha

    Any ideas?
    Anyone else want to do something like this?
     
  2. Ashers

    Ashers Bacteria? Don't exist.
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    My parents are planning on going on medical missions sometime after my dad retires -- he's an orthopaedist and my mom's an RN.

    People will say that primary care will be good, however, any specialty would be valuable.
     
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  3. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    That would be 3-5 years after your 3-7 year residency, presumably. So we are talking 6-12 years from graduation or, if you are an M2 8-14 years from now. It's silly to try and plan something 14 years from now -- your life may be very different, the world may be very different, the practice of medicine will guaranteed be very different. Bear in mind that if you travel the world, you generally spend more money than you will be taking in. So you basically need to save a decent amount to make this possible. Also bear in mind that the years you are traveling the world you won't be investing in things like retirement funds, so it probably means you have to work to an older age. And if you have kids to put through college and the like, you also probably can't stray far from a paying job. I would bet that you will get a job, stay at it, and do the 3 weeks a year traveling most of the rest of us will do.
     
  4. mjl1717

    mjl1717 Senior Member
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    Yes, my gut feeling was that its not really that feasible..
    But is more easily attained in the entertainment field or else becoming a well known plastic surgeon like "plastic surgeon to the stars"
    To travel like that Id think that you should easily be able to save up maybe 2 or 3 hundred thousand at a clip..
    Unfortunately in this field there is NOT a lot of time to smell the roses..:rolleyes:
     
  5. JessieLee

    JessieLee Junior Member
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    Hey! This is something I've been looking into also. I have no idea what specialty I'm going into. I figure along the way I'll find someone doing what I'd like to do and ask them how they went about it. My plan is to work for the CDC after residency. Maybe there is a way to do two year assignments in different areas as a Medical Officer. Or if your really good, you can "create" your position.
     
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  6. MSHell

    MSHell Deranged User
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    Look into MSF (Doctors Without Borders). They do require 1-2yrs experience beyond residency, but they do pay your minimal home expenses while you are away (mortgage, health insurance and minimum student loan payments). Other than that though, they don't pay much. It's good because then you don't have to put off international work for a decade post-residency if you're very interested.

    It's kind of difficult to be a true travelling doctor. You need a home base at the very least for licensing purposes.
     
  7. Re3iRtH

    Re3iRtH Member
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    It's not that hard. If you are a Preventative Medicine Doc for
    the Army, you travel to a new country once or twice per month
    (of course expenses fully payed) if you desire.
     
  8. AmoryBlaine

    AmoryBlaine the last tycoon
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    It would be alot of fun if you could make it work, couple of points though.

    1. Do not pick a specialty based on its ability to travel.

    2. The biggest problem with these "dream" careers is finding jobs. Most any job that would send you around the world like that is going to be a) competitive b) low-paying aside from all the travel expenses and c) rare. As an M2 it's hard to realize (I remember how it was) that nobody is ever going to hire you to fufil your dreams. If you are in anesthesia then they want you to put patients to sleep as quickly and safely as possible. If you are a hospitalist they want you to move the meat.

    3. Getting licensed to work in foreign countries can be arduous or impossible.

    4. You would not be able to try to learn a language while you were practicing -- it would not be safe for patients.
     
  9. Dakota

    Dakota Senior Member
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    I've met two different physicians in occupational health who do a lot of traveling. Between 30-40% of their time is spent outside of the country. Both worked their way up in big oil and now function as executives who admister company clinics in far flung places as well as institute new public health plans in those countries. The reason the companies invest in this is 1) It helps engender good will among the locals. 2) It helps keep employees healthy so they can keep comming to work.
     
  10. docscience

    docscience AZCOM (Junior Member)
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    Thanks everyone for their input...you guys are right...it is does sound like a dream job...but then again, some want to settle down in a town, raise a family, etc...
    I will put that off for a while...

    Perhaps administration with a little clinical will the best bet...
     
  11. kdburton

    kdburton Ulnar Deviant
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    One of the guys who writes First Aid does it (Vikas Bhushan) - just look at his brief bio inside the cover. Hes a radiologist and describes himself as "a teleradiologist now and divides his time between Maui and other balmy remote locales with abundant bandwidth." Sounds like a nice life to me :)
     
  12. persia

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    Family medicine can allow you to travel and work around the world. In some ways, that and ER training are the best for this.

    Look at different FM programs for residency because some do have excellent international preparation. Or, you could learn what you need to be the best at rural/third world at an otherwise good residency program.

    Follow your heart, practice the kind of medicine that YOU want to practice and as you go along look for opportunities. Like infectious disease? you could do six months here and then six months doing research. With all respect to some of the posters above, you can do what you want. Most important is to listen to your instincts/gut and follow up on leads that sound like what you want to do.

    Consider also missionary work, CDC, WHO. If you like Ob/gyn consider having a thriving home practice and then volunteer XX months a year doing fistula repairs in Africa. People do these things all the time, think creatively. You are only limited by your own thinking. ;)

    Good luck!
     
  13. J-whoa

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    theres the doctors without borders program

    and also u should read mountains beyond mountains if u havent already
    besides being a sweet book it also talks about how paul farmer was traveling before he went to med school, continued traveling during medical school, and basically did half of his infectious disease residency outside the country
     
  14. LeLu

    LeLu Cookie Monster
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    My OB/GYN spent 6 months in Africa last year with Doctors w/o Borders. Sucked for me!
     
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    #14 LeLu, Jun 18, 2008
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2008
  15. Lacuna

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    There's always teleradiology, where you can read night-time scans from the U.S. anywhere in the world. Radiologists in private practice have significant time off in which they can travel.
     
  16. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    People don't do these all the time with high student loans and other family expenses. You underestimate how handcuffed most people end up between debt and other obligations. A lot of these "traveling the world" ideas are better when you are an unentangled college student who can bum around with a backpack for a few months.
     
  17. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    Actually the band width is the key for that. 99.999% of the world won't be adequate. You are stuck with the major cities in industrialized nations. So it depends on how you define traveling the world.
     
  18. persia

    persia Member
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    People do these things all the time with children and with debt. As I said, we are only limited by what we can imagine. Everyone's situation (and desire) is different. Be creative, and follow your heart.

    ;)
     
  19. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    All I can imagine is repo men carrying away all my stuff while I'm overseas not earning a salary.
     
  20. bks524

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    I am similar to OP. As a physician, I have traveled to Venezuella, Philippines, Bangladesh x2 and leave for Mexico on Sunday to provide medical care in clinic settings. It is not hard to do for short term trips. You have to find a licensed in country doctor whose license you can work under. Longer term does require more red tape. Doctors without borders is good. If you are a Christian then there are several opportunities within the various denominations that help with sending you-these are often more in one place for long periods of time.

    Just for inspiration. I know a couple that work for a mission board and are both physicians. They are part-time professors and then travel to various remote parts of the world doing clinics and scouting for future clinics. They travel 6-8 months per year. So if you want to do it-go for it. By the way, any field is usable in other countries. I agree, don't pick a specialty for use in a foreign country unless you see yourself their permanantly-then pick something of need that you like.

    Good luck
     
  21. docscience

    docscience AZCOM (Junior Member)
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    This is the biggest worry that I have....debt will be major for me when I graduate..as I mentioned I may have about 200K in debt when I graduate. This will take a good 5 years to pay off. UNLESS I CAN FIND A RESIDENCY PROGRAM THAT WILL HELP ME PAY OFF A BIT OF MY DEBT??? DO THESE EXIST?

    Other obligations? I can't see any, but I can make a guess about them....my family, my future family (wife, kids), their education/standard of living, their goals, friends, stability in investing in one place, etc. ONE SOLUTION IS TO STAY A BACHELOR FOR LIFE...HANDS OFF LADIES. haha


    Just an article that is somewhat related....just thought it was an interesting listen.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16774871
    Story about Indian physicians returning home..obviously these guys don't have debt (probably pretty rich already).
     
  22. docscience

    docscience AZCOM (Junior Member)
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    I have thought about planning for something 14 years from now...it is silly, but almost all of our med school compadres are somewhat like this, we have had to plan to apply to med school from college, have somewhat of an idea before 3rd year for specialties, plan for residency (taking into consideration significant others, kids, etc.), plan where to practice, etc. Our profession is one in which sometimes you have to plan plan plan to be successful.

    If you want to go into derm for example, you must have good grades, must do well in clinicals, must do well in boards, must do some research, must be an outstanding candidate. It isn't silly to plan something that you want 4 years in the future (derm residency).
    But I do see where you are coming from as far as planning WAY too far in the future...things do change..

    How dare you tell me to do what the general physician population does? haha I am a rebel...I will figure out a way.
     
  23. Law2Doc

    Law2Doc 5K+ Member
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    Well, you can plan all you want, but most of the time it doesn't work out that way and so you have to be flexible. Starting with college, half of all people won't get into med school and need to change directions. In med school, most people change their mind at least once about what specialty they like. And many people don't have the board scores to get derm even if that's what they plan for. And most people don't have a clue what entanglements and obligations and even wants they are going to have a decade from now. So you can make a strong argument that those who didn't plan far in the future were better off, more flexible, more prepared to change course when they had to. All you can really know for certain is the things in the near term. And the longitudinal obligations you will have to pay off down the road, like student debt.
     
  24. LeLu

    LeLu Cookie Monster
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    Thanks for good input bks! :)
     
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  25. Dakota

    Dakota Senior Member
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    A 5 year repayment plan is going to be way too aggressive for the average physician income. With interest accrued during residency that will be more than $50k/year paid for with after tax dollars. And trying to make interest payments while a resident? If you're looking at $200k at 6.8% just paying interest will be $1100/month.
     
  26. kdburton

    kdburton Ulnar Deviant
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    Although I don't think too many people actually end up using such an aggressive repayment plan, I think its definitely possible (I'm talking about after residency). Even if you were making an average salary in one of the lowest paying specialties you'd be making ~$120,000 in your first couple years. At an income of $120,000 you'd be paying 34.45% income tax (state+federal) in NY state leaving you with $78,660 after taxes. If you were paying back $50k in student loans per year then that leaves you with $28,660. That is more than what I've lived on every year for the last 7 years as a student haha.

    On the other hand you'd have to be stupid to go with that repayment plan unless you planned on never purchasing a house, car, or some other high-cost item that would be financed at a higher interest rate than your student loans.
     
  27. Leiflet

    Leiflet Outward Bound Has-Been
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    Nice guy too, I know of groups of teleradiologists that practice from Italy as well. The fill a niche by working graveyards from other timezones. I can think of quite few countries with much better bandwidth where this would be a viable career that involved travel. Your patients are in the US so I don't think you would need any local Licensing but Law2Doc would definitely know more on that. Good luck. Just because it's unlikely doesn't mean you shouldn't try it. It might help if you don't buy anything during school. Oh, and try to sleep on campus someplace.
     
  28. Sara010

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    Have you ever thought about being a cruise ship doctor? Every cruise ship has a doctor on board, easy hours, pretty general complaints...can travel a lot of different places. :)
     
  29. TarHeelEMT

    TarHeelEMT Converted Truck Surfer
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  30. TarHeelEMT

    TarHeelEMT Converted Truck Surfer
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    Another thing: A lot depends on the conditions under which you're willing to work.

    One of the doctors I know that inspired me to pursue medicine started off his career in Lebanon during the civil war there because, well, they desperately needed doctors. He finally had to flee Lebanon, but by that time, Iran had a desperate shortage of physicians because of the Iran-Iraq war. He relocated his family to rural Iran and served as the physician for a community that otherwise wouldn't have medical care at all.

    He now works as a neurologist here in the states, but he spent many years traveling the world as a physician, albeit as a dirt poor physician.
     
  31. TigerSoup

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    Besides Mountains Beyond Mountains, are there other good reads by/about physicians working internationally (books, blogs, articles, etc)? I'd be interested in hearing about their experiences as well as how they were able to get into the field. I know the OP is a guy but it'd be interesting to get learn about some female physicians' experiences too since they might have some additional concerns to deal with (like being a bit more worried about personal security).
     
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  32. docscience

    docscience AZCOM (Junior Member)
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    TarheelEMT...thanks for the posts! Great sites man! Thanks again!
     
  33. montessori2md

    montessori2md Member
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    One of my husband's college buddies travels all the time, he does research. his wife said he's "quite the hit" at European medical conferences. All expenses paid travel is good, and he gets to practice when at home and the University's retirement pension waiting for him someday. He's in critical care medicine.

    Not exactly the same as tromping around the jungle to get to remote villages, though.

    Don't get married. Don't have kids. Don't buy a house. The rest should be a piece of cake : )
     
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  34. docscience

    docscience AZCOM (Junior Member)
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    MontessoriMom, Can you tell me more about this guy's gig?

    Critical Care Medicine/Pulmonology is something I have given thought. What kind of research does he do? And how long does he get to travel? Or I guess, how long does he practice medicine in the states?

    Does he work for an academic hospital since he is heavy in research?

    Thanks in advance.
     

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