Study Abroad Case Study: Global Health

On reflection my education or career path has been a slightly convoluted one. I decided I wanted to study medicine fairly late during secondary school, it was a toss up between that, acoustical engineering or music technology. Anyway, I chose medicine as the “sensible” option and continued music just as a hobby.

Straight from school I started studying medicine at the University of Southampton. Originally, I wanted to finish the 5-year degree as quickly as possible to start working, earning and training towards a chosen specialty. But after 4th year I was bored of the city and the same routine every day, I wanted a change – so I began looking at intercalated degrees in London. These degrees are generally one year programmes available for medical students to focus on one subject area, conduct some research and at the end you get a BSc (from the combined credits completed in medicine during years 1-3). I was admitted to Imperial College London to study Immunity and Infection then returned to Southampton to complete my final year of medicine, graduating in 2013.

The following two years I was working as junior doctor in East London completing the Foundation Programme. After this, I still wasn’t sure which direction to take my career in so didn’t commit properly to any speciality application. Instead I looked into Master degrees abroad. After the media attention the current junior doctor reforms have received, I don’t really have to explain my reasoning behind wanting a break from busy NHS life.

It is fairly well-known that most Nordic countries offer free higher education for European Union students, so I started looking specifically at Sweden for Master programmes – particularly those in public or global health. Sweden and the Nordic countries have always intrigued me for a number of political, cultural and societal reasons, and living there is something I’ve wanted to do for a number of years.

A friend of a friend told me about the Global Health Masters Programme at Karolinska Institutet, as they’d completed it a couple of years ago. We got in contact with each other and shared some info about the degree. I’d been thinking about taking my medical degree to a more low-income or humanitarian setting, so this seemed like the perfect way to get my foot in the door. I applied, managed to secure a place and started studying here in September 2015!

One reason you may have heard of KaroIinska Institutet is because of the Nobel Prize – it is the home of the Medicine and Physiology prize and is awarded on campus each year. Karolinska Institutet or KI, is a leading specialist medical university. It is ranked 1st for medicine and life science in Sweden, 3rd in Europe and 9th in the world (QS World University Rankings 2015/16). So it’s a pretty prestigious institution to be a student at – also the campus is in the capital of Sweden, Stockholm.

With only 6000 students, it’s a relatively small university making it feel like an intimate community. I really like this vibe the campus has, you’ll often recognise people at the lunch canteen each day and bump into people you met back in introduction week. Most of the people at KI are Swedish medicine and nursing students, and all but one of the undergraduate programmes are taught in Swedish. However, many medically themed Master programmes are taught in English for international students, such as Global Health (which I’m studying), Public Health, Biomedicine and Bioentrepreneurship.

So what is Global Health? Think of public health which deals with healthcare systems, healthcare workers and health policy on a national or continental level, but this is on a global scale. It is the study of the health of populations in a global context. We look at health determinants (what factors affect a person’s health) and health indicators (how to measure health). A lot of the course involves comparing these determinants and indicators between different countries, particularly low and middle income countries (based on GDP). We also look at the different interventions and policies put in place and how these may improve health in that country.

At the moment I’m undertaking my thesis research, looking at the risk of developing mouth cancer from smoking and using Swedish snus (a type of tobacco placed in the mouth). Sweden is the best country in the world to research public health due to their population registry system and ability to track a person’s health via a ‘personal number’.

I love Sweden and studying here has been a great decision for my career, opening up so many opportunities. At the moment I intend to stay in Stockholm after graduation with the aim to learn Swedish and work as a doctor in Sweden. Studying or working abroad is an experience I think everyone should undertake and it’s a shame that so few UK universities take part in Erasmus or exchange programmes. If you get the opportunity to study abroad, take it.

To find out more about Karolinska Institutet visit:
For more info about studying in Sweden visit:
And for blogs written by students studying at KI and around Sweden visit:

Alex Browne
Masters Student in Global Health at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden