What to do if you have problems on your elective

julia fullerton

Make sure you know who to contact in the event of any difficulties. Some medical schools may have doctors in relevant specialties who are available to give advice; or the school may provide an email address to which you can send any enquiries. In addition, let your medical school and family know exactly where you're going, and how you may be contacted in the event of any emergency. Obtain the addresses and telephone numbers of embassies and consulates in the countries which you visit. If there is a serious local event such as an earthquake or hurricane, let everyone know you're safe.

Theft

Keep all your important documents such as passport, tickets and money in a pouch around your neck, close to your chest and with your t-shirt tucked in as thieves can cut ties easily. Consider using a chain and padlock when travelling so that you know your rucksack will stay where you left it if you fall asleep on a train. If you do have something stolen, contact the local police so that you have a crime number to claim from your travel insurance on your return.

Lost tickets and passports

Most airlines now issue e-tickets but if you do have paper tickets that are lost or stolen, contact the travel company or airline directly who can re-issue another ticket. This sometimes involves travelling to a central office with proof of purchase and identity. Many travellers now email a copy of their itinerary and important documents to themselves before they leave so that they can have access to them from any internet café in the world. Alternatively, keep a photocopy set of all important documents separately. If you're unfortunate enough to lose your passport, contact your embassy as soon as possible.

'We felt completely out of our depth. At one clinic, steroid tablets were being handed out like sweets, literally. Many times it worried us to find that, when presented with a febrile prostrate child who was in a critical condition, we were the most qualified personnel present.' Elective students at a rural health centre in Indonesia

How to say no!

Even the best-laid plans can go wrong and electives can disappoint. There have been reports of students arriving on their elective to find that not only was there a lack of supervision, but they were the 'doctor' in a remote clinic.

We recommend that medical students are supervised by qualified practitioners at all times and are aware of the standards set by the GMC which will apply to them as future doctors. In the booklet Good medical practice (2013), the GMC lists the duties of a doctor. This is an extensive list but includes, 'recognise and work within the limits of your competence'.

You may want to refer to these guidelines during your training and especially during your elective when you may take on additional duties.

Before cutting short their elective, these students had made efforts to contact their school and spoke to local health workers. Because they made their own school aware of their problems, they were fully supported when accusations were filed by their hosts that they had failed to 'meet financial responsibilities'. Their unhappy experience is fortunately rare.

If you have any concerns, contact your school elective tutor. A rescue position may be possible, such as arranging a transfer to another hospital locally or even returning home so that another elective can be arranged in the UK.

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This guidance was correct at publication . It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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