Medical Programs FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions Topics

General Questions

What makes the VIA experience unique?

VIA has over 55 years of experience connecting between Asia and the U.S., and over 40 years of experience running programs bringing students from Asian universities to San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Stanford University. Our participants are able to stay connected to a group of like-minded individuals throughout their careers. Having an alumni network allows past and present participants to strengthen their personal and professional development. VIA also provides opportunities to contribute to meaningful impact in local organizations in areas that most other exchange organizations don’t have access to.

What is a typical program like?

Each day will be unique and filled with a variety of activities to help you broaden your horizons, sharpen your skills, build strong relationships and deepen your understanding of culturally competent medicine. The program will typically offer activities during the day, including shadowing, medical organization visits, guest speakers and discussions. Evenings include time for reflection activities, movie screenings, cultural and social events as well as personal time. The program is fast-paced and intensive. Please come rested, full of energy and ready to learn!

Why study comparative health care in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area?

Silicon Valley and San Francisco rank among the world’s strongest centers for innovation, and are home to premier institutions of biomedical research such as the Stanford University School of Medicine, UCSF Medical Center, and the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. The San Francisco Bay Area is also home to numerous healthcare startups and nonprofit organizations working to solve many of society’s most pressing medical challenges. The region is culturally and socioeconomically diverse, and provide a unique opportunity for you to deepen your understanding of what it takes to become a culturally competent health care professional.

Is English required? How good should my English be?

All programs are conducted in English. You should have intermediate English listening, speaking and writing skills. However, our priority is your passion and motivation rather than your English ability. By dedicating yourself to English during our programs, such as asking more questions or sharing your feelings with others, your communication skills will improve and be refined.

Application Process

Who can apply?

University students 18 years or older from Asia studying in a health-related field (pre-med, pharmacy, nursing, public health, etc) can apply.

How long will it take to complete my application?

It depends. The personal information section should only take 1-2 minutes to fill out. The second part of the application asks you to write several short answers (in English) about yourself and your motivations for joining. The short answer section should be no more than 250 words each and it will help us get to know you better. Depending on your English level and writing ability, it may take 1-2 hours. If you can’t finish it all at once, you can save your progress and finish your application at a later time.

What information do I need to complete my application?

For the first step, you will need to provide personal information (name, nationality, year in school) and contact information (email, phone number, Skype ID).

For the second step, you will be asked to provide information about yourself and why you are interested in joining the program.

Finally, you will be asked to tell us when you are available to be interviewed by the Medical Programs Director (interviews usually take 10 -15 minutes).

Do I need to submit TOEFL/TOEIC scores to apply? Is there a minimum required TOEFL/TOEIC score?

You do not need to submit TOEFL/TOEIC scores. All you need to submit is the online application. You should have intermediate English listening, speaking and writing skills, but there is no minimum required TOEFL/TOEIC score.

When will I know if I’m accepted?

We will send out results approximately one week after your interview.

What happens after I’m accepted?

You will receive information about the next steps – how to apply for a visa or register with ESTA, how to get travel insurance, how to arrange flights, etc. You will also be invited to join an online group with other participants, so that you can get to know each other better. In addition, you will receive some materials to help you prepare for the program.

Traveling and Studying in the US

What do I need to bring with me?

We recommend that you pack one small suitcase and one small bag only. You should be able to carry your own luggage around one city block and up and down stairs. California is often shown as a warm, sunny place with beaches and palm trees. San Francisco, however, is usually cool, often cloudy and windy – even in summertime. It’s important to bring cold-weather clothing, like sweatshirts, jackets and umbrellas. We will also be walking around the city a lot, so comfortable shoes are important.

Other important things to bring are: a camera, laptop or tablet, prescription medication, copies of your travel and insurance documents, adapters to charge your electronic devices, white coat (advanced-track students), and a set of formal clothes. Once you are accepted you will receive a detailed packing list to aid you as you prepare for your travels.

What type of clothing should I bring with me to the United States to join the more formal program activities (e.g., medical lectures, workshops, visits to health care facilities)?

Men’s Business Casual Attire:Medical Programs Men's Attire

  • Note: a tie is NOT necessary for business casual
  • Shirt – A dress shirt with collar; a nice sweater or jacket over a shirt with a collar (no t-shirts or sweatshirts)
  • Slacks – A pair of slacks/trousers in black, navy, charcoal, gray, or khaki (no jeans)
  • Shoes/Belt – Be sure to wear a belt and shoes that are in good condition. Athletic shoes and sandals are not acceptable.


Women’s Business Casual Attire (skirt or pants):Medical Programs Women's Attire

  • Shirt – A dress shirt with a collar; a nice sweater or jacket over a shirt with a collar (no t-shirts or sweatshirts)
  • Slacks – A pair of dress slacks/trousers or skirt in black, charcoal, gray, or khaki (no jeans)
  • Shoes/Belt – Be sure to wear a belt and shoes that are in good condition. Athletic shoes and sandals are not acceptable.


Should I be worried about safety in California?

Safety is always a concern for VIA. All participants are required to have travelers’ insurance, which can provide coverage for medical and other emergencies. Program staff make participants’ safety and well-being their highest priority at all times. They will arrange or plan transportation routes and accompany participants to all organization visits.

Violent crime is not common in or prevalent in San Francisco. However, as is true for most major cities, one should take a common-sense approach to safety precautions as one would anywhere else. Carry a good street map and perhaps a cell phone so that you can call your hotel in case you get lost. Do not carry large amounts of cash or wear expensive jewelry.

What kind of visa will I need? Does VIA issue visa invitation letters?

People from regions listed on the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) (e.g., Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan) do not need to apply for a visa. However, they must register and get authorization to travel with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

Nationals of other regions not listed on the VWP (e.g., mainland China, Hong Kong, and Thailand) must apply for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa. VIA will issue an invitation letter to all accepted participants, so that they can apply for a visa at their nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

Do I need travel insurance?

For safety purposes, all participants are required to purchase travel insurance and send copies to VIA prior to travel to the US. For some students, this can be arranged through their university. Healthcare is extremely expensive in the US. Even though the program is short, it is not worth the risk to come without travel insurance. Some credit cards cover medical emergencies, so please check with your credit card provider to see if you are already covered.

What will happen if there is a problem or emergency during the program?

For minor emergencies (small injuries, illness, etc.), program staff will take care of the participants’ immediate needs and accompany them to the hospital if a hospital visit is necessary. For major emergencies (serious injury, illness, or accidents), VIA staff will ensure you receive the care that you need, and notify your emergency contacts.

For problems with alcohol/drug use, illegal activity, or breaking program policies, VIA will discuss the incident with the participant(s). Depending on the severity, the participant(s) will receive a warning or, if it is a very serious problem, VIA staff will notify the participant’s home university, and potentially send him/her home early.

What about free time? Will there be opportunities to explore on my own during the program?

The program is designed to be an intensive experience in order to maximize participant impact and learning. However, we understand that proper rest and time off are also beneficial to student learning, bonding and overall well-being. You will have one free day to explore San Francisco and the surrounding areas. During the program, there will also be several opportunities to explore Silicon Valley and join other fun activities.

Questions about Shadowing (for advanced track participants)

How many times will I be able to shadow during the program?

Each advanced-track participant will be able to join one shadowing activity during the program.

What types of medical facilities will I be able to shadow at?

Past shadowing placements include: UCSF Orthopedic Institute, UCSF Internal Medicine Wards, Stanford Emergency Room, Stanford Pediatrics Department, Pacific Free Clinic, and Arbor Free Clinic

Are immunizations necessary in order to shadow in the US?

Yes, in order to shadow at US medical facilities, all participants must be vaccinated against: varicella, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, flu, and tuberculosis.

What happens if I cannot get all the immunizations?

You can still join the program. However, it will significantly impact your ability to learn in a clinical setting. Immunizations are essential for both your and patients’ safety. To learn more about the required immunizations, please review our Immunization Guide (January 2019). Because what American hospitals require may be different from what you are familiar with please be sure to read the guide thoroughly. We also recognize that preparing this paperwork can be confusing. If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Medical Programs Director, Lina Yamashita (lina@viaprograms.org).

Questions about EHC

Who can participate in EHC?

University students 18 years or older from Asia studying in a health-related field (pre-med, pharmacy, nursing, public health, etc) can apply.

Where do participants come from?

Typically, students who join EHC in the spring come from Japan, and those who join EHC in the summer come from Japan, mainland China, and Taiwan.

What does the program fee cover?

The program fee covers: accommodation, welcome lunch and final dinner, most scheduled activities, transportation, and on-site VIA staff support and services. The fee does NOT cover: airfare, optional activities, most meals, travel insurance, and vaccinations (vaccinations are only required for advanced-track students).

Where will I stay during the program?

During the program you will stay at a hotel in downtown San Francisco. You will share a room with another program participant selected to enrich your program experience.

Who leads the program trainings and activities?

Program activities (orientation, trainings, reflection sessions, organization visits, etc.) are organized by the EHC staff team in collaboration with guest speakers/panelists from a variety of health care backgrounds.

What happened to the Medical Exchange and Discovery (MED) program?

From 2013-2018, VIA offered the MED program, a three-week program based at Stanford University. Starting in 2019, we decided to offer EHC, a two-week program that VIA has been running every spring since 1996, in the summer as well in order to allow students who have other commitments during the summer to participate.