Where to go and what to do on your elective

jordan carroll

Electives don't just happen; they're usually the product of a lot of planning and organisation. Many popular hospitals may have had elective positions reserved up to two years in advance.

Things to consider

There are dozens of factors which might influence your choice of elective, such as budget, or an interest in a particular specialty or country. Ideally an elective combines personal and professional development. Talking with other students and lecturers, browsing through travel brochures or going online may help firm up your ideas.

What you can offer

While you're thinking about what you'd like to get out of your elective do also consider whether your host will benefit from your visit. Take time to think about the ethical implications of your planned trip. If you're going with an organised provider think carefully about their impact on the local community and take time to consider where your money is used.

Rural hospitals in developing countries are popular destinations. They may provide experience of exotic conditions and many may appreciate an additional pair of helping hands. You may also plan to take medical supplies to donate to the hospital. Be careful. Some drugs, such as codeine, are illegal in some countries.

Be wary of high application fees. Some hospitals receive a large income from students on electives. You may find you're competing for time and attention.

Hospitals offering electives usually need confirmation from the student's medical school of their stage in training. Some may ask for an elective booking fee and expect a student to undertake a medical. If there's no formal system for arranging your proposed elective send a covering letter, CV, project outline and official authorisation from your medical school.

Plan ahead

Some destinations are popular with students from all over the world. It's not unusual for students to apply for up to 30 organisations to do an elective and receive the same number of rejections. But don't give up – expand your search and find back-up options as well. Research remote locations carefully.

'I travelled alone so I was very restricted about what I could do as a single female. I couldn't swim, unless fully clothed and with local women. The diving and snorkelling was supposed to be the best in the world but, as I was on my own, I had to miss out.' Elective student, Papua New Guinea

Electives in mainland Europe are increasingly popular, particularly for those who speak the national language.

'These last two months in Spain have given me new insight into Spanish history and culture. I may not have been to Africa, India, China or Australia but I am certain that my time in Spain was unique.' Elective student, Spain

Many students opt for an elective closer to home, sometimes because finding funds for overseas travel is difficult. Electives in the UK and Ireland can be very rewarding, especially if they broaden your experience.

'Many people had asked me why I chose to stay in the UK to carry out my elective. Having now completed my time at Great Ormond Street Hospital I am extremely content with my decision. I have had a greatly stimulating, educational, tiring, and exciting five weeks in London, and I regret nothing about coming here.' Tony Fordham, University of Liverpool
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This page was correct at publication on . Any guidance 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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