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I’m Allen, a final year medical student studying at King’s College London. I am about to embark on what is one of the most memorable moments of any medical student’s time at university, my elective placement! So – here are some pre-elective tips.

I’ve decided to head out west and spend my electives in the Caribbean Islands, spending a month in Jamaica and three weeks in Cuba, alongside doing some travelling and exploring.

In Jamaica, I will be undertaking a placement in Anaesthetics and Intensive Care, whereas in Cuba, I will be doing a mixture of Emergency Medicine and General Surgery.  

Starting med school soon? Read our top tips here!

1. Think about what you want out of your elective

First and foremost, an elective is about experiencing medicine in a different country and exploring a new healthcare system. So, pre-elective, have a think about what you’d most like to do.

Working in a new environment and observing how things are done there is a valuable learning experience to help improve your own clinical skills when starting life as a doctor back in the UK.

Jamaica and Cuba have very different healthcare systems compared to the NHS back home in the UK. Cuba, one of the few remaining communist countries, is renowned for having one of the greatest healthcare systems out of any developing country, and I wanted to witness this first hand.

Jamaica brings a new population that I haven’t worked with before and a whole host of different pathologies to what I would see in the UK.

2. Pre-elective: plan some free time

Being honest, I also wanted a great holiday (don’t tell uni that though!). I’m in my sixth year at university and it’s not been an easy, straightforward ride, so a long well-deserved break is needed before throwing myself into the world of work and practising medicine as a junior doctor, another notoriously difficult but enjoyable job (hopefully!).

So my elective begins with a short trip to Canada where I am visiting some family, before heading to the first of my Caribbean adventures in Jamaica.

There are no direct flights between there and Cuba, so I have to fly via the Bahamas where I’ll have five days to explore the islands (it’s a hard life!).

From there, I’ll be going to Cuba before finally heading to Mexico to do some travelling, exploring and trying lots of great food at the end of my elective adventure.

3. Organisation is key

This is one of the key pre-elective tips: get started on your planning early! Electives are notoriously tricky to organise as you can end up being away for two-three months, but also has the potentially to be one of the best times of your life, so definitely worth the effort in planning.

Start thinking properly about your electives around a year and a half before you want to go. Booking flights earlier can help drive down the costs too.

If you’re stuck for ideas or want a helping hand in booking flights, travel agents such as STA Travel can be very helpful and save you a lot of hassle.

4. Make sure you consider funding

Funding is a tricky subject for many students as money is tight for many of us, but an essential part of pre-elective planning. Sponsorships and bursaries are an ideal way to help with costs, but many have early deadlines so make sure you start looking out for them early on.

Universities will often have some of these as well as hardship funds/elective prizes to help with the costs. Part time jobs and NHS bursaries are other ways to make ends meet.

Depending on where you are from, you may be eligible to recoup your accommodation and some other costs from the NHS bursary too. If you have your student house for the whole year, subletting your room is another great way to save some cash, just make sure your landlord is happy with this!

5. Think about how you organise your placements

University partnerships are a must to investigate as these can sometimes save you hundreds to thousands of pounds on tuition fees at foreign hospitals, so this is a worthwhile thing to investigate pre-elective.

I organised both my placements through a programme at university and a contact one of our lecturers had, saving myself almost one thousand pounds in fees.

The Electives Network is another good place to find out potential placements. If hospitals don’t have nearby student accommodation, try looking at Airbnb apartments – especially useful if there are a few of you staying a long time, as you can secure hefty discounts.

An elective is a once in a lifetime experience, organising it well will ensure you have great memories to cherish for a lifetime!

Want more tips on life at med school? Read more:


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