Aarhus University Seal

Internationalisation improves health research and education

When Aarhus University encourages medical students to take an international semester, we’re not doing it to satisfy privileged students’ wanderlust. The latest medical knowledge is developed in international relations. Health at Aarhus University therefore focuses on internationalisation – from degree programme to research and from student to professor.

By Vice-dean for Education Charlotte Ringsted and Dean Lars Bo Nielsen

When the Ebola epidemic swept through West Africa, it awakened a global fear of how easy it would be for the disease to spread across other continents. All it needed was one infected air passenger from West Africa who was not treated correctly on arrival. But Ebola also showed how effective and widespread the international research collaboration actually is. The vaccine that could be tested on more than 4,000 people in Guinea already in 2015 was the result of a collaboration between the healthcare authorities in Guinea, Médecins sans Frontières, the World Health Organization WHO, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and a range of researchers in Canada, USA, Switzerland and the UK.

Intercultural understanding is important

The research and knowledge on which our degree programmes are based is international. This is why the internationalisation of education is important at Health and at Aarhus University. Since 2016, the fifth semester of the Master’s degree programme in medicine has been dedicated to an international semester. Both teaching and clinical training are organised to allow students from other countries to hop on board the semester in Aarhus. Internationalisation also works the other way. Danish medical students exchange a semester at AU with a ready-made qualification package at a partner university abroad.

For the individual student, a semester at a foreign educational institution will be an experience of a lifetime. Both academically and socially. But the international semester is not there to give students with wanderlust a great experience. When the international students share their experiences from their university and the healthcare system in their own country and ask interesting questions about how we do things, it gives everyone food for thought. It puts our own medical degree programme and healthcare system into perspective and provides both the students and lecturers with new input. The experience of having been in an international study environment helps medical doctors later in their working life to show greater openness and flexibility in relation to work culture and organisation, because they have experienced different hierarchies and management styles. Students also gain increased independence, critical sense and intercultural understanding. These are extremely important aspects of the many competences that are necessary in a rapidly changing healthcare system with many different professionals in the field.

On a more straight-forward level, it also gives students and lecturers English training. It is necessary to master English on a high academic level to be able to provide competent treatment to patients with non-Danish backgrounds, and to tourists and foreigners who work in Denmark. And also to help our Danish patients who travel abroad and need to take medical documents about their illness with them. This will be increasingly needed in Denmark. Because disease is not limited by national borders, oceans or political agreements.

Danish input has global benefits

The knowledge that is needed to solve Denmark's and the world's health issues develops and flows across the continents. More and more leading health research and education happens in international academic networks between the top universities worldwide. This is where the most outstanding researchers and medical doctors meet, where they share knowledge, build further on decades of research and teach the students. Danish researchers, medical doctors and students must be part of these networks, and the internationalisation of the degree programmes in one of the paths to achieving this. Not to be part of the elite and mingle with the top hundred universities for the sake of prestige. But to carry out high-quality research, treatment and education, that ends up benefiting all of us in Denmark.

Denmark is a small country with a great need of international academic networks. But Denmark is also known and recognised internationally for a good healthcare system and among research circles for a high work ethic, skilled students and a responsible research culture. And, of course, we also have unique access to data that is valuable for research purposes. We can and must make this available in international contexts.

When we at Health welcome our international students, we do so as part of a larger internationalisation strategy that will in the years to come roll over the faculty. We will come to invite more visiting professors to collaborate with the faculty. This will hone our international profile and strengthen our relations with other universities. We need to be aware of an even higher degree of collaboration in research and educational activities with the best environments in the world. This will give us a good starting point for meeting future requirements for the prevention and treatment of disease in Denmark – and for being part of the international fight for better health. Because diseases do not respect national borders.