How to Organise an Elective

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What is the elective?
The medical elective is probably something that’s been in the back of your mind since starting university, and is often considered one of the major highlights of your medical school experience. It is a fantastic opportunity to spend around 8 weeks discovering medicine in a different environment, whether this be within the UK, or abroad. The electives are also an opportunity for you to distinguish yourself from your fellow students and increase your chances of getting a competitive job.Choosing and planning the right elective for you can therefore be an exciting yet daunting task. With so many elements to think about, it’s difficult to know where to begin!There are a number of choices to make with regards to electives; what to do and where to go.  Some decide on where they want to go first and then decide on what they want to do (specialty and whether mainly clinical or research).  Others prefer to decide on their specialty and whether they want a clinical or research elective and then decide on where they want to go.  You should make this decision based on what is most important to you, what experiences you want and what you think will help you get ahead most following the research you undertake.

Where to go
An important thing is to decide whether you want to stay in the UK or go abroad. Although most people choose to go abroad for their elective, this doesn’t mean that you have to as well. There are plenty of great opportunities within the UK, so it is definitely worth finding out if what you want to get out of your elective would be possible by staying in the UK. If choosing to go abroad, you should consider whether English is spoken, or if you are able to speak the language there.

What to do
Deciding what type of experience you want, and what you would like to get out of your elective is hugely important. Do you want to be very hands on with a relatively intense timetable, or have a more relaxed experience? Do you want to be in a state-of-the-art hospital in the US, or work with a community outreach team in the developing world? The options are endless.You should also consider whether you want to spend your elective getting involved in teaching or specific research projects. If you’ve already decided what specialty you would like to go into, tailoring your elective to this can boost your CV and help you down the line when applying for training posts- always something to bear in mind!

Who to go with
Another important consideration is who you want to go with. Do you feel confident enough to go alone, or is it important to you that you go with your friends? Many medical schools allow for a few weeks holiday at the end of the elective period, so this may be a good time to reunite with your friends if you have decided to go on separate electives.

Budget & funding
It is no secret that electives can end up being very expensive. One obvious benefit of choosing to stay within the UK is that it will invariably save you some money. If going abroad however, consider the cost of flights, accommodation, insurance, vaccinations, visas, spending money etc. It mounts up! It is therefore vital that before you start planning your elective, you work out what your budget is, as this can have a significant impact on where you are able to feasibly go. Make sure you that you also look into any funding available to you; there are many awards and bursaries out there, so check the websites of the various medical associations and societies, as well as the royal colleges for more details. Some medical schools also offer elective grants to their students, so it is worth investigating what your university can offer you.

Planning & organisation
Start planning your elective early, as popular destinations will get booked up quickly- sometimes 6-12 months in advance (South African Trauma Centres and HEMS are booked up years in advance!). If planning to go with a group of friends, you may need to book even earlier to secure your placement.Your medical school should be able to offer some ideas and contact details based on past electives. However, one of the best things to do is to talk to junior doctors and others who have already been on their elective, to gain contacts and advice on how to go about organising your own.The Electives Network website, which you can access for free as a member of the Medical Defence Union, is another good source that offers useful information as well as student reviews of their own elective experiences. The royal collages may also be able to offer advice on electives relevant to particular specialties.

Summary
The key things you need to ask yourself when planning your medical elective are:

  • Where do you want to go?
  • Who do you want to go with?
  • What type of experience do you want to have?
  • How much will it cost, and what financial support can you access?
  • What extras do you need to consider? (Visas, vaccinations etc)
  • How far in advance do you need to book?

    Finally, and most importantly, make sure that you have a great time!