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Sun, Sea, Sand, and Elective!

Yeah… That was pretty much my first thought when I heard that I had to spend part of my summer on my elective. For me, summer is my hard-earned break from university and all those responsibilities that come with it for a couple of months. Just some time for me to have fun with my friends and relax. Electives aren’t all doom and gloom though. So, let me start at the beginning.

Electives are a placement that you organise yourself – the location, speciality, duration – all of it! For me that made it really fun. I love Emergency Medicine and didn’t fancy waiting until specialty rotations to do my A&E block in what could potentially be a small district general hospital. I wanted to get stuck in, see the plethora of different medical emergencies and presentations that can roll through the doors at any moment. So, I planned my elective in a busy London hospital’s A&E department. It was fantastic. I had the opportunity to see so many different medical conditions, help the doctor clerk in patients, take the history and examination, even carry out my own secondary survey! For me, this elective was the perfect opportunity to sharpen up my clinical skills because there was such a broad spectrum of things to do.

The first step in elective planning is picking a country. Although I study in the UK, I chose to do my elective in the UK, but away from my medical school to keep the costs down. But many of my friends have travelled all over the world – the choice is yours! My school are really chilled out about our elective destinations. For us, we can go anywhere as long as we can prove that we will be safe there – usually via a risk assessment form, and that the Foreign Office haven’t advised not to travel to that destination. We’re even allowed to go to non-English speaking countries if we can communicate effectively in that language! So, once you’ve picked a country, you can move onto picking a speciality and hospital that offers electives in that field.

The Electives Network is a wonderful website with details about thousands of hospitals and reviews. Access is free if you have an MDU (Medical Defence Union) membership, which is free for medical students. I used the network to find my hospital and details of how to apply. The MDU also provide free indemnity cover which is really handy! The BMA is also another handy place to find out information about electives. Most hospital websites will have the details of who to contact if you’re interested in planning your elective in advance.

Depending on the hospital, applying can be a little bit complicated, especially if you want to go abroad. But don’t let this deter you if you want to go somewhere really exotic. Most hospitals will ask for the following in your application:

· Completed application form

· Police clearance certificate

· Letter of recommendation from your university

· Indemnity/malpractice cover

· Passport photograph

· Details of any assessment required by your university

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list – just the things I was most commonly asked for during my application. Heads up – if you want to go abroad, like outside of Europe, I would start planning ~12 months in advance of when you want to go. Some hospitals have a deadline to applying and popular destinations such as Australia and South East Asia tend to fill up quickly, so you gotta get in early!

So now we’ve applied, we need to think about accommodation. Some hospitals either offer reasonably priced accommodation or will direct you to where to find some. If that fails, there’s always AirBnB, I’ve used that a few times without any problems. Last but not least, travel insurance is vital! Your university may offer reduced cost travel insurance as your elective is a requirement for your course. Some bank accounts come with free travel insurance. It may be worth asking your parents – they were able to secure free travel insurance for me as their child and being in full time education. If that isn’t possible there are lots of companies out there that specialise in student travel and travel insurance so nothing that a quick google can’t solve!

After your elective you’ll probably have some time to travel with friends and enjoy the location you’re at. Honestly, I think having fun is just as important as the elective placement. Travelling is an amazing experience, and these summers are the perfect opportunity to do it in! If you’re thinking of travelling, you may want to hire a car to drive abroad – make sure you take your driving license and your International Driving Permit. You can get these at the Post Office and they’re not expensive, but a must for driving abroad.

Ádios! Enjoy your summer and elective travels!

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