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What Is A Medical Elective?

The elective you choose to take is among many highlights in the 5-6 years in medical school. You have the chance to travel anywhere in the world for between 4 and 12 weeks. It’s a huge choice. Make the right choice, and don’t leave the preparation at the last minute!


Medical electives can be a fantastic opportunity to improve your abilities and broaden your medical interest in a different and unfamiliar area. It’s not necessary to travel much – there are plenty of amazing opportunities within the UK such as with helicopter emergency teams. However the research you do or any career-oriented electives (eg in a renowned oncology centre) can greatly boost your career prospects in an increasingly competitive job market.

If you’re sure you’d like to explore the world make sure you choose wisely. Yes, you will have plenty of opportunities to go across the globe for vacations while you’re a physician, however, it might not be that easy to be working in a rural town in Uganda for 8 weeks; for instance, you’ll have more expenses to pay or you might own a house, and you may have a family member to care for. If you’re thinking of taking a trip abroad for an elective make sure you choose an exciting, unique opportunity which you’ll probably never have the chance to repeat.

The purpose of the elective

It is important to decide what you want to get from the elective. Do you want to get a general overview of the medical system/hospitals/conditions in the developed or less developed world? Are you seeking something specific? Are you interested in publishing research papers? Are you interested in teaching? Do you want to be an expert in haematology working in a specialist haematology centre? Are you looking to observe the most unusual medical conditions you’ve read in textbooks? Are you looking to become competent at medical procedures, eg putting in chest drains as a member of an emergency room?


The best resource will be past medical students who have been on their elective. They will have good ideas as well as contact information and might be able put you in contact with colleagues who’ve had experiences with different electives. You can ask your foundation year 1 doctor (FY1s) or special registrars (StRs) as well as registrars and consultants – everyone will have good suggestions and are willing to share their experiences from their elective.

A majority of medical schools store details of previous medical electives and may contain contact details as well as reviews. Some royal colleges may also be able to provide you by providing ideas or contact details regarding careers-focused destinations.

The Medic’s reference to work and electives all over the world includes detailed information about the hospitals and countries, with the contact details. The Electives Network website gives useful information and student reviews of electives. While both give valuable information, they’re not exhaustive. If you are feeling that you’re missing the mark make an appointment with your hospital dean or your career manager.

Types of elective

There are a variety of elective so you’ll have a wide variety. Do you want to work in the developed world, such as Australia or Europe? What about conducting cutting-edge research in modern hospitals in the USA? Do you want to see the provision of medical care in the developing regions of Africa or India? Or , are you more adventurous? If so, consider options that are primarily focused on high altitudes – like working with mountaineers, or at ski resorts. How about working with helicopter emergency crews or even NASA? Alternatively, past medical students were employed at a lower altitudes, using scuba diving / hyperbaric centers.

Do you want to improve your language or survival skills simultaneously? Do you want to do research or improve your skills in clinical or surgical? How about doing all of these, while residing on a tropical island in the Caribbean?


Begin to think about your preferred option at least 18 months ahead of time. The most popular UK medical elective locations, hospitals and programs will be booked up 6-12 months ahead therefore, make sure you book your tickets as soon as is possible. If you’re planning on your medical school students You may have to make reservations even earlier in order to ensure a spot.

There are numerous commercial companies that handle all aspects of your choice. While they are typically efficient and effective however, they can cost a lot of money.

Medical electives can give the opportunity to live the medical system and lifestyle in a other part of the world. However, in less familiar areas, be aware of travel tips and warnings, and always verify your Foreign and Commonwealth Office website before booking, and again prior to travel.


Electives are typically expensive, and the cost quickly goes up: accommodation, flights and vaccinations, deposit insurance, processing fees and travel expenses, and more. Work out your rough budget before arranging your elective. For example it’s not worthwhile travelling in New Zealand for 2 months with a budget less than PS1 000. For electives that have a specific in research, humanitarian or other areas there is usually funding available through grants or awards. Check the websites of the royal colleges and specialist societies as well as other medical organizations for details. A Google search will likely be a good starting place to search for and apply early.

Final preparations

In the midst of preparing for your final exams and submitting applications for FY1, make sure you take plenty of time to prepare to finalize your preparations, which includes testing, vaccinations, health check-ups and visa applications. visas to the USA and Canada can take weeks and sometimes even months.

Don’t forget indemnity cover along with a great travel insurance plan. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is something you should take along if it’s not readily available at the hospital you are visiting – hopefully you won’t need it. Contact your local infectious disease / occupational health department for more information.

In the end, visit your GP for travel advice including the need for malaria prophylaxis and medical travel packs, that can include antibiotics for emergencies (for diarrhoea and eye/ear infections, etc.) and basic medical equipment.

Finally – enjoy yourself.