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Medical electives

electiveAn elective can be one of the most exciting parts of your medical training. Read on for our guide to making the most out of this life-changing experience.

What is an elective?

An elective is a period of work experience away from your normal medical school. They last between 6-12 weeks and normally take place around your final year. Many students choose to work abroad for their elective, but there are also plenty of placements in hospitals in the UK, or in other areas like pharmaceutical research .

How do I arrange an elective?

Firstly, think about where you want to go. Do you want to work with a charity in a developing country, for example? Or maybe you’d rather get experience in a specialist clinic in the UK?

It’s likely that your medical school will have links with other medical organisations, and might be able to arrange your elective for you. Independent companies like The Electives Network, Medics Away and Global Medical Projects also organise electives for medical students.

Another option is to arrange your elective yourself. Research the countries or specialisms you want to work in, look on the internet for hospitals or charities that you’re interested in, and try getting in contact with them directly. If you’re stuck for where to start, the IIME (Institute for International Medical Education) has a database of medical schools around the world.

It’s important to come up with three or four different options –some elective placements are very competitive, so you might have to apply a few years in advance and will need a back-up if you don’t get your first choice.

How much does an elective cost?

The costs of electives can vary widely. Working in the UK is usually cheaper, especially if your placement pay for your accommodation or travel expenses. But if you want to go abroad, you’ll probably need to pay for the following things: 

  • Flights  
  • Accommodation  
  • Visas 
  • Vaccinations
  • Travel insurance
  • Professional medical protection / indemnity insurance – this covers you in case you are sued by a patient when you’re working abroad

Some placements might cover the cost of your flights and accommodation. However, some other placements – such as charities or NGOs – might expect you to pay additional fees to work with them. You will normally also pay commission and administration fees if you’re arranging your placement through a professional agency, for their help sorting out your visas and travel insurance. You also need to research daily living costs in the country you’re heading to, and also budget for any travelling you plan to do at the end of your elective.

Can I get funding?

Electives can be expensive, but there are a number of sources of funding. Ask your medical school if they have any grants or bursaries specifically for electives, and Money 4 Med Students has a great list of other grant-making organisations you can apply to.

Some companies – particularly in the pharmaceutical industry – offer sponsorship schemes for students on certain electives. As with grants and bursaries, competition for sponsorship will be tough, so make sure you draw up a good budget and plan of what you intend to do on your elective when you make your application to stand the best chance.

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