Background With the inclusion of elective programs, often overseas, in many medical courses, it was decided that a preliminary retrospective analysis of health problems associated with these programs in medical students from the University of Tasmania would be desirable.
Methods A questionnaire covering general travel health issues was distributed to all medical students in the University of Tasmania, on return from their elective. They were asked to complete the questionnaire and return it on an anonymous and voluntary basis. In addition, student elective submissions were consulted for information relating to their chosen destination.
Results Results of the study indicate that general practitioners were the most common source of pretravel advice for Tasmanian medical students. Overall, 64% of students experienced some sort of health problem of which travelers' diarrhea was the most common. Most problems were mild and self-limiting, but a number of serious infections were recorded, including acute leptospirosis, paratyphoid, and Staphylococcus aureus cellulitis. Of particular concern were the reports of assault and sexual harassment recorded by several students.
Conclusions Elective programs are an important part of many medical courses. With the widespread destinations chosen by students, it is important that they be given adequate pretravel health advice. Most of the health problems encountered by students from the University of Tasmania were mild, but exposure to serious infections was recorded. It is thus imperative that students take out travel health insurance and that they are counseled on how to avoid dangerous situations while abroad.