For many students, an elective takes place in the final year of their medical degree. With the heavy workload that the final year entails, planning an elective should begin early (sometimes as much as eighteen months in advance), not least because many students tend to gravitate toward the same locations. For example, places on trauma electives at Johannesburg Hospital can fill up almost two years in advance. You should also consider the working conditions and amenities of the places to which you apply; a remote hospital in the South Pacific can have limited medical staff and intermittent internet access – so you might not get a response for some weeks. The earlier you apply, the more time you give yourself for long correspondence intervals and for things going wrong.
It is also a good idea to explore alternatives in case your first choice isn’t available, and to compare the costs involved in travelling to your first and second choice destinations, so you can plan for the worst and organise the appropriate funding, visas and vaccinations.
Applying early also means that you are thinking about your elective in advance; this means that you’ll be able to think about sources of funding and about your budget earlier too. There are still grants and bursaries available for elective students but they are not usually available at the last minute. So, the earlier you start planning your elective, the earlier you can start looking for funds.
Further information on electives
There are a number of organised elective providers available, who will plan your elective from start to finish, but these can be costly, and not every student has the financial resources to use their services. However, there are other organisations such as The Electives Network, which operate databases of hospitals worldwide that offer electives to students.
These tools are great for students who are arranging their electives independently, as they provide feedback reports, hospital profiles and contact details. They also contain information about the costs that are involved in taking an elective at the hospital. Although not exhaustive (students will still need to do their own research and budget for their particular circumstances), this information is a great way to get your planning off to a productive start, particularly if you are organising your elective independently.
Your medical school should also have information on electives and there are various websites with elective information – see the links below.