It is that time of the year again when final exams are just around the corner. If you’re looking for some guilt-free procrastination, why not start planning your elective?
Overseas electives are arguably the most exciting part of med school. It’s the perfect excuse to travel (not that you should ever need an excuse) and you’ll also get to see patients presenting in weird and wonderful ways that you could only ever imagine back home. Having said this, we’ve all heard stories about the nightmare elective and the endless stress that takes over when things don’t go to plan. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail and when it comes to your elective, it’s absolutely spot on.
The first and most important decision to make is where to go. Do you opt for a first world country where you might see cutting-edge procedures or should you instead go to a third world country where patients present with fascinating illnesses that have long been relegated to the realm of textbooks in countries like Australia?
- Research opportunities
- Networking with important contacts
- Skills more applicable to Australian healthcare
- ‘More of the same’ – most first world clinical settings are very similar
- Lost opportunity to be pushed outside your comfort zone
- Cost – expect non-refundable application fees in the hundreds
- A completely new and foreign experience
- Learning to adapt in low resourced settings
- More affordable
- Cultural appreciation
- Safety – although if you do your research you will be safe
Ultimately, both sides have their merits. It is worth keeping in mind that many reputable centres in first world countries have a long waiting list and will only consider applications supported by university letters of recommendation. With that in mind, this is a rare opportunity to get into some of the leading healthcare centres in the world. Remember to also consider language barriers!
Self-directed vs. Company Electives
There are several companies that offer ‘pre-packaged’ electives to students. It is definitely worth considering these options, particularly if you are not a seasoned traveller or if you are travelling to a country where safety may be an issue. You will of course be paying a lot more money for it so it’s worth trying to plan your own if you can – even if there are hiccups along the way, you’ll definitely learn invaluable life skills!
If you’ve decided to do it yourself there are two main things to consider; transport and accommodation. There are comparison sites available for both so be sure to take advantage of them to avoid paying more than you need to.
Skyscanner is my go to site to compare flights. Some people say booking on Tuesday gets you the cheapest flights, so far that’s been the case in my experience. If you don’t want to be checking prices everyday sign up to email newsletters from sites like Iknowthepilot.
Some hospitals will have accommodation but the costs may be prohibitive, especially in first world countries. If you are travelling alone, staying at a hostel will save you a lot of money and it’s also a great way to meet new people. You’ll want to avoid dodgy hostels (accommodation is certainly one of those things that can make or break your trip) so be sure to check comparison websites like Hostelworld. I will admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of hostels (think small beds, shared bathrooms etc.) but after a few good experiences, I’ve been converted. Having said that, they’re not for everyone. If this is the case you, try Airbnb. Hotels should be last on your list as staying for a couple of weeks will almost certainly break the bank.
This is THE most important tip of them all. Electives left to the last minute almost invariably go wrong and at best you’ll be paying way more than you need to. Book your flights at least 3 months in advance to avoid ticket price scalping or worse still, sold out flights.
Before you leave
- Bookings – have a calendar to make sure all the dates align correctly (triple check everything!)
- Travel insurance
- DFAT registration
- Have a backup elective – there are often last minute cancellations
Remember to travel onwards after your elective. With super busy lives ahead of us as future interns and JMOs, you cannot afford to turn down a chance to see the world.