Medical Programs FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions Topics

General Questions

What makes the VIA experience unique?

VIA has 60 years of experience connecting between Asia and the US, and over 45 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?

VIA does not have minimum English test score requirements (e.g., TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, etc), but 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 studying in a health-related field (pre-med, pharmacy, nursing, public health, etc) can apply. Typically, participants have been students from universities in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan, but participation is not restricted to specific universities or regions. All nationalities are welcome to 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, etc).

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

The final step will be a 20-minute online interview with the Program Director. If your application is selected, the program director will follow up with you to confirm the interview time.

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?

VIA staff make participants’ safety and well-being their highest priority at all times. All participants are required to have travelers’ insurance, which can provide coverage for medical and other emergencies. 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 a cell phone so that you can call VIA staff or the 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?

Participants from regions listed on the US 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 US 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 EHC

How did EHC start?

EHC was first launched in partnership with Tokyo Medical University (TMU) and Tokyo Women’ Medical University (TWMU) in 1996 as a two-week program for students to join during the break between Japanese academic years in mid-March. It quickly grew to include students from other medical universities in Japan. In 2019, VIA began to offer EHC in the summer as well, replacing the Medical Exchange & Discovery (MED) Program, which made it possible for students from more regions to attend during their summer break.

Is EHC virtual or in-person?

It’s both! VIA plans to offer EHC virtually in the spring and in-person in the summer.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VIA cancelled the spring 2020 EHC program, and spent the summer redesigning the program for a virtual format. The virtual EHC program launched in March 2021 and ran twice a year through spring 2023. VIA will resume the in-person EHC program from the summer of 2023, but plans to continue offering the program virtually during the spring cycle.

Who can participate in EHC?

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

Where are participants from?

Typically, participants have been students from universities in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan. More recently, we have had participants from Myanmar and Zambia join the virtual EHC programs. Participation is not restricted to specific universities or regions.

What does the program fee cover?

For the in-person program, the fee covers: accommodation, welcome lunch and final dinner, most scheduled activities, local transportation, and 24-hour on-site VIA staff support. The fee does NOT cover: airfare, optional activities, most meals, travel insurance, and any medical testing, care, or additional travel costs associated with COVID infection and treatment, including, but not limited to, the cost of modifying, extending, or canceling any lodging or transportation arrangements before, during, or after the program.

For the virtual program, the fee includes pre-program support and orientation; 30+ hours of live online presentations, discussions, and interactive workshops; mentorship from peers and a variety of health care experts; and access to an online learning platform with additional information, resources, and opportunities to connect with peers.

Where will I stay during the in-person 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.

Are there opportunities to shadow physicians in the US?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most hospitals have stopped offering shadowing opportunities to students. At this time, we cannot guarantee shadowing opportunities for participants. Limited opportunities may be arranged on a case-by-case basis.

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.