16 Health guidelines for students & staff traveling internationally

International_Travel_AbroadTo prepare for international travel with students and staff takes quite a bit of time, and I don’t think I overstep my bounds when I say keeping everyone alive and healthy are the main goals. Ebola and polio have dominated the headlines in recent months, but it’s no secret that health concerns exist everywhere, not just in high risk areas of the world.

As with many great and wonderful things in life, preparation is key, as is revising any existing policies and procedures. To assist you in those efforts, below are some resources and tips gathered from around the web, geared toward traveling abroad with students and staff.

1. Check out the CDC: Traveler’s Health website.

Several portions of this website will prove helpful. Travel health notices will alert you to the most dangerous health issues around the world, while the Clinician section will allow you to search specifically by destination, and with a special population (children) or circumstances (extended stay/study abroad). The results of that search will alert you to necessary vaccinations, diseases, counseling, and packing tips for that specific place. For example, if I’m traveling to Angola with children for study abroad, the search returns this information.

2. Encourage parents to check with their child’s physician.

While the internet is a wealth of information, it is no substitute for a physician. Parents should check with their family doctor before sending their child abroad. They may have additional information and suggestions specific for their child that the internet cannot provide. If this proves to be the case, also encourage parents to share this pertinent and critical information with you.

3. Collect and have access to all student vital health information.

Some students may have critical health conditions, and some students may be entirely healthy. You need the health information on each and every one, regardless of where they fall on the health spectrum. Exposure to new things abroad may bring about an unexpected allergic reaction, or someone may simply fall down and need attention for a broken arm. Either way, you’re going to need the vital health information on each student so you can provide health care professionals with the information to do their jobs. Consider collecting and managing this information electronically, on a mobile device, on a thumb drive, etc.

4. Ensure current emergency contact information, permission and release forms, and medical authorization forms are on file and current.

In addition to the actual health information, you need these other pieces of information for liability and communication purposes. You don’t want to be caught abroad without all the information needed to provide explemplary care to your students and staff.

5. Register with the U.S. Embassy before leaving. 

You can find all the U.S. Embassy locations on their website as well as news and notes about areas of unrest or other important information.

6. Make certain every student and staff member has insurance (and know how to use and access it).

This is another vital piece of information you must have. Many schools provide this insurance, but if yours doesn’t, ensure that each child and staff member is covered.

7. Train the leaders and chaperones.

Each adult on this trip must know what is expected of them, how they should respond to certain situations, have the ability to stabilize a group of students, and be able to administer basic first aid. It is a plus if they have the ability to administer CPR and medications as well.

8. Know about and carry medications.

You absolutely must know which students are on medications, and carry a full supply with you. You should also consider carrying additional stock in the event that the trip lasts longer than planned due to unforeseen circumstances. In particular, think about those students with asthma, diabetes, seizures, food or other allergies, depression, anxiety, etc. In addition, educate yourself on how and where to access additional medical care in the country you’re visiting.

9. Carry your own emergency kit.

This includes medical first aid, but also think about specific items for your travels like batteries, a flashlight, tools, emergency plan check lists, etc. Hopefully you don’t have to access this kit, but at least you have it. Plus, you could put it in a fanny pack, and that’s always a good look.

10. Have parents review destination and agenda information well in advance of travel.

It’s your job to prepare as well as is humanly possible. It’s each student’s parents’ job to review what the child will be doing, where they’ll be going, and determine if the risks are too great. If they feel the risks outweigh the reward, their child should not be accompanying you on the international trip. With that said, you need to provide the parents with all the information months in advance so they can make an informed and educated decision.

teen_girl_traveling_cropped11. Consider the age of the student.

When developing a policy for international travel, consider if the student is old enough (mature enough) to handle all that goes with that travel. If you need to make a hard and fast rule, maybe elementary, or elementary and middle school students, are not allowed on international trips. This is especially a good rule if you have a population of young students with health conditions (allergies, asthma, etc.) they cannot yet manage themselves.

12. Guarantee the school nurse or health professional is a part of the trip planning. 

The health center staff aren’t often the ones planning international travels, but they need to be a big part of the plan. According to NASN, the school nurse or health professional needs to be in on “making accommodations for health care needs, determining medications and treatments, and preparing for potential emergencies.” You can find the NASN official statement here.

13. Ask questions.

You’re going to be peppered with questions from parents and staff, so ask yourself the hard ones before they do. Some might include:

  • If an emergency requires that students need to be gathered in a central location to transport them to another location, where would you gather them? How will they get to this location?
  • How will you arrange for the students to fly back to the U.S. if the program is canceled due to a health crisis or conflict?
  • If the emergency situation only involves one student (i.e., injury, personal health situation), what are the steps you would take to arrange for the student to obtain care and return home?
  • If the students need to be evacuated to another location, where will this be, what stand-by arrangements have been made so that the new site is prepared to accommodate students?

14. Train the students.

It’s likely that at least some students are not yet world travelers and are going to need guidance. At the very least, every student needs to be informed of your expectations of them. So, you need to train them. They’re going to need orientation for the program and guidelines for simply being abroad. Among other things, your student orientation should include:

  • Presenting health and safety concerns to students before leaving and onsite when you arrive.
    • How will you contact students in an emergency? How will they contact you?
    • Modes of transportation they can safely use.
    • What personal items they should bring in an emergency.
  • Addressing common travel troubles for teens including sleep, diet, jet lag, altitude sickness, etc.
  • Covering what foods and drinks are safe to consume or bathe/swim in.

15. Identify those students with chronic and severe health conditions.

Those with asthma, diabetes, seizures, allergies, and other chronic conditions are going to need special attention in your preparation. Know who each student is, know their condition, know their treatment, know how to reach their emergency contacts, and know how to react should the worst case scenario play out.

16. Finally, prepare for your staff and chaperones as well. 

They’re on this trip to care for the students, so their health and well-being are just as important. Make sure you have their vital health information, know about any health conditions, and have insurance and emergency contact information for them as well.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us in the comments below what other health policies and procedures you have in place for student and staff travel abroad!


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