A Guide to Medical Clinical Electives
What do you want to get out of your elective?
Having an idea of your aims are pretty important. Some people arrange electives as a means to travel, others to work in a particular hospital, with a specific doctor that they know or want to work with, or in a particular field (often that they want to specialise in then), others want a particular University or hospital on their CV. Whatever you want from your clinical elective, figure it out, and then plan things based on that.
Look at location, clinical field, hospital, university and any other factors that might play a role? If you’re going abroad some people want to try and stay where accommodation is cheap and combine visiting family (and having somewhere to crash) with your elective is definitely a big factor. Some people need to work while doing electives and have family or commitments, so will stay close to home, and so they should. There is no need to go abroad and do an elective in Africa if you need to be closer to home. Do what interests you and do what suits you best.
So think about what you want to get out of your elective and then focus your search for electives on that!
Grand, I know what I want to do now, how do I do it?
Once you know what you’d like you can then focus on how to get it. Getting electives can be done formally, or informally. Some hospitals have pages and pages of application forms and deadlines that are very firm, others charge significant fees to do clinical electives, others provide teaching and tutorials during your time there (so they charge a fee for the provision of the education you’re getting, NB this is especially true for electives in North America).
- Make a list of all the places you want to go.
- Look up their application deadlines.
- Look up consultants and cold-email them, and ask to do an elective!
- Chat to your peers about where to go: People are full of genuine helpful advice!
- Gather the documentation you might need.
- Prioritise the ones you want based on feasibility, applicability, time frame etc.
- Submit the applications.
- Wait and see.
- Enjoy the electives!
Want a hand finding some clinical elective programmes already arranged?
Are you a medical student in Trinity College Dublin?
The School of Medicine has arrangements with several international Universities/Hospital and the spots are often competitive, you need to specifically apply for them and details are sent internally to eligible medical students within Trinity.
Where do Irish students tend to go for electives?
Irish Hospitals in other Universities; check out the other medical schools, it’s useful to see how other hospitals in Ireland work, especially if you might end up being an Intern or SHO in one of them at some point. Applications often can go through the Schools of Medicine formally in the universities, or you can apply directly to consultants in specialities and see if they can arrange it for you, or direct you to the right person.
*(only take affiliated students formally, try directly approaching consultants instead)
In The UK
Lots of TCD students have been all over the UK. TCD have an arrangement with Noble’s Hospital in Isle of Man, and specific consultants have contacts in different hospitals. Look to the big universities (though they are competitive) or look at specific fields and drop them all a line. Make sure to apply well in advance because sometimes you need to apply more than 12 months in advance for some of the fancy elective programmes.
In The United States
In South East Asia
In Australia and New Zealand
Typically, hospitals in Africa offering electives are under-resourced and over-subscribed by their local populations. Hospitals are typically very welcoming to students and the responsibility students receive is typically much higher than in Ireland, with more opportunities to assist in surgical procedures and lead morning ward rounds.
Students considering pursuing an elective in Africa should get in contact with hospital administrators early, as contact with hospitals tends to be very intermittent and it can take several weeks to fully arrange an elective. Hospitals are very grateful if students are able to fundraise money or bring medical supplies over, particularly smaller hospitals in more rural settings. Visas can be purchased upon arrival in the airport for most countries in Africa. Vaccinations requirements vary on a country by country basis but travel medicine clinics such as the Tropical Medical Bureau can advise on the vaccines you will require.
What You Will Encounter:
Malaria and HIV (both are endemic throughout Africa)
Parasitic Tropical Diseases (Trypanosomiasis, Leishmaniasis, Schistosomiasis especially)
Vaginal Deliveries and Caesarean Sections
Tuberculosis, Pneumonia and Other Respiratory Infections
Trauma (Typically related to manual farm labour)
Destinations in Africa TCD Students Have Visited:
Wenchi Methodist Hospital, Ahafo Region, Ghana: email@example.com (Dr. Boateng Bosomtwi, Medical Director)
Holy Family Mission Hospital, Phalombe, Malawi: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kilimatinde Trust Hospital, Kilimatinde, Tanzania: https://www.kilimatindetrust.org.uk/
St Francis Referral Hospital, Ifakara, Tanzania: https://ifakara.org/en/st-francis-hospital/hospital.php
Tasakhtaa Hospital, Zanzibar, Tanzania: email@example.com
Livingstone General Hospital, Zambia: https://www.facebook.com/Iston.centrhospital/
Murambinda Mission Hospital, Buhera, Zimbabwe: https://fmh.org.uk
And check out the other listed ones above (MOVE, Projects Abroad etc.)
In India and Nepal
In the Middle East
Want to do a different, maybe political or policy related elective?
Funding Clinical Electives
Funding both Clinical and Research Electives can be tricky – look at the Awards, Prizes and Funding page for some institutions, charities and other funding sources that have awards and bursaries for medical electives!
The Practical Bits
Planning and Preparing for your Clinical Elective
Start early. Check what your University needs for your electives, and then check what your receiving University/Hospital need you to provide.
Documents: Passport, visas, travel tickets, insurance, letter confirming your status as a medical student in your home student, proof of medical indemnity, proof of vaccinations, driving licence, photocopies of all documents, and scan copies on email of all your key documents.
Personal Bits: Pack your bag (!).. and then consider some specifics: insect repellant, suncream, water purifier tablets, rehydration sachets, malaria meds, PEP meds, etc.
Medical Bits: stethoscope, ID badge, pen torch. If you’re going to bring one book, the best is probably just the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine – it usually covers the basic for most electives – but don’t be bringing a whole library with you!
Your Personal Health
Make sure you look after yourself while you’re away. Get all the vaccines you might need (both for the hospital work you might be doing) and for the places you might be travelling to! The Topical Medical Bureau often have medical student vaccination deals, but price your University GP service too, or check out Travel Health Clinic.
Some electives require that you provide the medical indemnity insurance. Often your University will have this accounted for, especially if electives are compulsory, so you can get a letter stating you are covered from your university. Otherwise, ALL Irish medical students can be covered for free for electives by the Medical Protection Society – so definitely enjoy that freebie and the peace of mind it gives you!
You may need travel insurance depending on where you’re travelling too. If you’re an EU/EEA citizen you should make sure your E111 card is up to date and to have it with you if travelling within the EU/EEA district. If you need travel insurance beyond that you should definitely make sure you’re covered in case anything happens. Student summer holiday insurance is available and affordable from numerous travel insurance companies – just don’t ignore it.
Considerations During Your Elective
It’s worth pointing out a few things that have come up previously for medical students. Clinical electives are enjoyable and fun, but often you need to suss out the situation for yourself before you really settle in. Keep a few things in mind during your electives and always feel comfortable contacting a superior or someone at your home institution if things feel uncomfortable.
- recognising and working within your own limits (especially clinically!).
- do not do anything you don’t feel comfortable doing or that you don’t feel qualified to do.
- understand and respond to cultural differences within your elective hospital and country. Things can be very different, especially abroad, so take some time to gauge what is expected of medical students and how both social and medical interactions happen.
- preparation and planning: do some light research before you get there, so that you’re not caught off-guard, when you’re trying to learn and enjoy yourself.
- how where to go if you’re concerned about fellow students or professional colleagues.
The British Medical Association have a comprehensive publication that guides students to consider some ethical things before heading off on their clinical electives – and it’s pretty useful!