Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical students' electives abroad

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 28 November 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1528

Students need extensive advice on planning electives

  1. Jane Zuckerman, Elective tutor.
  1. Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London NW3 2PF
  2. Medway Hospital, Gillingham, Kent ME7 5NY
  3. Chogoria Hospital, Chogoria, Kenya, Africa

    EDITOR—Banatvala and Doyal's editorial on student electives abroad raised several issues.1 As the elective tutor at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine I am responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of each student going on an elective both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Time has to be spent with each student, discussing every aspect of their plans and identifying potential problems. This includes considering their academic suitability, the occupational risks and, importantly, travel related hazards.

    Students choose to gain medical experience in various settings. Some wish to experience health care in a rural setting, others in a university teaching hospital. Students must be aware of the differences in setting and learning experience. Some may be shocked to find few medical resources and may be expected to act as a fully qualified medical practitioner. Others may be disappointed to find that they gain little “hands on” experience other than shadowing the duty doctor. The experience that a student hopes to gain from the elective must be discussed to highlight any potential difficulties.

    The possibility of culture shock, language difficulties, and loneliness are among other subjects that need to be addressed. Advice should be given on immunisations, antimalarial prophylaxis, and other general methods of prevention of illness. The necessity of comprehensive travel and health insurance must be emphasised.

    Students are encouraged to write a report on their experiences during the elective, which is subsequently read by fellow students. It is hoped that in this way students will have an …

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