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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 elective with them so always read the fine print. Before you go, think about your budget and work out a rough estimation of the total cost of the elective. I find its best to overestimate how much you’ll need so that you won’t come up short in case of an emergency. If your savings account is looking a bit empty, other options include fundraising, bursaries and grants. Find out if your university offers any assistance or contact external organisations.

If the idea of going abroad makes your bank account cry with despair, don’t worry. There’s always the option of undertaking your elective in the UK. This will save you a lot of money and is a chance to check out a different hospital in the UK and perhaps give you an idea of where you might like to work after graduation.

Who to travel with

Another thing to consider is who you want to go with. You could be spending up to 8 weeks with them in a foreign country so choose wisely! Going as a group is always fun and can be a safer option but that’s not to say you can’t go on your own. Travelling alone is always an exciting challenge and can teach you a lot about yourself. It also forces you to step out of your comfort zone and get to know local students. Having been on my elective for 3 weeks, I can definitely say that the locals are the ones to make friends with! Not only are they super friendly, they can recommend the best places for food, entertainment and any other bits and pieces you may need.

Boring, but essential

The best parts of planning an elective are definitely choosing your destination, planning excursions and buying clothes. However, there’s a lot of boring but important things you need to organise, and its best to do them early so you’re not scrambling around at the last minute – trust me I’ve been there and it’s not fun. Ensure you have travel insurance and medical indemnity. Some universities provide their own elective travel insurance, but it doesn’t cover everything so it’s a good idea to get your own. Websites like Compare the Market are great at helping you choose the perfect package for you at the best price. If you’re a member of the MDU you get free medical indemnity, just ensure you print off the certificate and bring it with you. In addition, make sure you are up to date with all your immunisations and ensure you receive any immunisation you might need.

Most students will say that your elective is the best part of medical school and I completely agree! It gives you the opportunity to experience another culture and gain clinical knowledge of unfamiliar conditions, and learn about the management of common conditions in different parts of the world. Wherever you go, just remember that you might never get this opportunity again so make the most of it!

Written By Ife Akano-Williams


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