A Guide to planning your Elective

The medical elective may be the most anticipated part of any medical student’s university experience and can certainly be one of the best parts of medical school. However, electives don’t just happen overnight, careful planning is needed to ensure everything goes smoothly and that you have the best time possible.

What is an elective?

An elective is an opportunity for medical students to spend some time observing medicine in another environment, whether this be abroad or in the UK. They are usually undertaken in the penultimate or final year of medical school, and can be up to 8 weeks long.

Why go?

It is a good opportunity to show commitment to your favourite speciality and to witness how it is practiced in different parts of the world. You can also use it as an opportunity to explore different areas of interest or gain experience in a field you haven’t yet been exposed to.


For your elective you’re able to stay in the UK or go anywhere in the world (within reason of course) and some universities even allow you to split your time between the UK and another country, so check with your university about the various options.


Things to consider

First you need to think about where you want to go and what type of elective you want. Are you the adventurous type who wants to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in your spare time? Or would you prefer to spend every afternoon lying on a beach in Barbados? Consider what you want to get out of your elective and how much work you want to do. Some hospitals are more lenient than others when it comes to elective students, whilst some are happy for you to take half days, some expect you in from 9-5 every day. As well as what you want, it is important to consider what your university requires from you. Some expect only a reflective essay when you return, whereas others are looking for you to complete a research project. Try and find the best place that will help you achieve your aims, as well as the universities.

Online websites such as The Electives Network are extremely helpful when it comes to picking a destination. It provides hospital profiles for a wide range of different countries with contact details and reviews from past students. It’s also a good idea to speak with any older students about their elective experience and where they would recommend you visit.


If you’ve been thinking about your elective for a while and know exactly where you want to go contact the hospital as soon as possible to ensure you don’t miss any application deadlines. Some countries e.g. Australia and Canada require applications to be completed 12-18 months in advance, so if you’ve got your eyes set on Bondi beach, make sure you get your application in early. Some hospitals only require an email however some applications can be extensive and require application forms, approval from the Dean and even CV’s.


Medical school can be expensive and by your final year, funds might be a little dry. The obvious solution to this would of course to start saving early, but this is not always possible. It is also important to be wary that some hospitals charge a fee for undertaking your