Electives give you the chance to discover new cultures and get hands-on experience in an unfamiliar location. You’ll be able to develop new skills and gain useful insight into specialist areas that may not be covered in your course.
In addition, you'll have the chance to take your elective abroad, giving you the opportunity to experience healthcare in the context of different cultures and health systems. You may also see medical conditions that aren't common in the UK.
Advanced planning is needed when you decide to travel on your elective, as the costs can be very expensive. When applying for funding, you’ll need to know how much your elective will be and understand that applications can fall through due to incomplete information.
So, make sure you double check all the information you’re providing is correct to avoid any delays further down the line.
Setting a budget for your elective can give you a realistic idea of the amount you have to fund your elective, and the amount you’ll need to find from somewhere else.
What type of elective should you choose?
It’s important to know what your university’s requirements are, and what you want to get out of your elective. It's also worth understanding what type of country you would like to visit, as this could impact your experience.
For example, a developing country will present different challenges in comparison to a developed one, and practice facilities will vary.
If you choose to do your elective in the UK, most hospitals will not charge a fee to UK medical students. This can help you keep associated costs low, and will give you the opportunity to find out what it’s really like to work in the NHS.
For medical students, an elective can often be an essential part of your course that is focused on your future career. For example, working in a hospital is common. You may want to consider doing a research project, a placement or some volunteering work prior to your elective.
These types of activities will strengthen your CV and give you something exciting to talk about in interviews.
Some dental electives aren't compulsory. If you choose to do one, it doesn't need to be focused on dentistry. Instead, it can be used to gain additional experience in related careers such as law.
Alternatively, you could use an elective to volunteer or take part in a conservation project.
However, it’s a no-brainer that undertaking an elective in the speciality that you wish to work in will come in handy for job applications, and will help you stand out even more in clinic.
By failing to plan, you’re planning to fail…
Many popular elective destinations – such as America and Canada – will book up between 6-12 months in advance. To secure your spot, it’s advisable to start planning 12-18 months ahead and get your application in early.
When applying for elective funding, remember that a lot of extra work may be required for the application. Preparation may include writing essays and giving presentations, so factor this additional time into your planning process.
If you choose to take your elective abroad, another advantage of early preparation is being able to secure the best exchange rates available to you.
You could also take some time to brush up on your language skills to avoid any embarrassing communication barriers.
Breaking down the costs…
To begin breaking down the costs of your elective, it's always useful to turn to your university for advice and support. They may also be able to put you in touch with students who have already taken their elective.
If you have a dedicated elective supervisor, they should be on hand to help with your planning and any crises that occur while you're away, so get in touch with them as soon as you can.
Past elective students will also be able to give you good advice and share their experiences, so make sure you pick their brains about budgeting.
It’s useful to keep track of your monthly incomings and outgoings to avoid any unnecessary charges. By understanding how much disposable income you will have in your bank account at any given time, you’ll know how much you’ll need to budget for living costs each month.
Budgeting will give you control of your money and will allow you to prioritise what matters most. Some bank cards track your spending by putting it into categories, making it easier to manage your budgets and monitor what you are spending your money on to help you avoid overspending.
To help you budget better, we’ve identified the main things that you’ll need to provide funding for…
It’s essential to consider any health risks that you may encounter in the countries you plan to travel to. Some countries may be listed as high-risk zones, so make sure you’re aware of (and can pay for) any vaccinations or PEP kits you may need.
It’s essential to take out elective travel insurance before you begin paying anything towards your elective to ensure you’re fully protected against ill health, accidents, and loss of money, tickets and valuables.
Some universities offer low-level or free insurance, but you may wish to opt for a more comprehensive cover.
It’s worth noting that some elective travel insurers may offer extra cover for medical devices and HIV infection via needle-stick injury. They can also cover the cost of your elective and reimburse you if you've failed the year and need to re-sit your exams.
- Travel and accommodation
If you’re travelling abroad for your elective, you’ll need to check if your passport is up to date. Many countries require you to have at least six months left before expiry before entering the country. If you need a new updated UK passport, factor in plenty of time as it can take several weeks for a new one to be processed.
In addition, check if you need a visa to enter the country you’re travelling to. The cost of visas can vary, and it’s worthwhile looking at the government and embassy websites of the country you’re travelling to to find out exact costs and the processes involved.
For example, some countries require you to visit the embassy or consulate in person for an interview or fingerprinting before they give you a visa. The organisation or practice you’ll be working at can often advise you on whether you will need a tourist or a work permit before applying for your visa.
Once your documents are all in check, research how long flights will take and if any other transportation is needed to get you to your final destination. Bear in mind that costs of flights will often increase the closer you get to your departure date, so try to book them as soon as you can.
Another key factor is your accommodation during your elective. You may need to book a hostel, hotel or find short-term lets.
Make sure you consider how far away your accommodation is to the location of your elective, and how much it may cost to get there if you have to use public transport.
Many students find that they can keep these costs down by choosing countries where they have friends or family members that are willing to provide accommodation during their elective.
- Professional indemnity insurance
A final consideration is professional indemnity insurance. You’ll need this in addition to travel insurance, otherwise you will not be covered if a patient or their family decides to sue you if something doesn’t go to plan during any work you carry out during your elective.
You’ll find that you may already have taken out indemnity during your time at university with the MDU or MPS if you’re a medic, or the DDU or MDDUS if you’re a dentist. It's important to notify them of where you are going and if your cover is valid in the destination you are travelling to.