Advance Planning [1year+ in advance]
The revise4finals 4-step guide...
1. What kind of elective do you want?
As they say, it's all about location, location, location.
Let's start at the beginning. The first thing you need to decide is what kind of elective you want. An elective is far more than just a few weeks in a hospital. Do you want to be on an unspoilt tropical island paradise with the only hospital being a small shed on the beach, or do you want a large bustling modern city with a high gun-crime rate and a world-class trauma centre? Speak to other students and read about the experiences of others. A lot of people plan their elective based upon the word-of-mouth positive experiences of former students.
2. Get writing
Once you've decided upon a location and have looked up the local hospitals, then the next thing you need to do is book your place early. If it's the tropical island you're after, then you may have to resort to old-fashioned pen and paper and/or homing pigeon, but whatever you do, get in touch early. The popular locations can get booked up years in advance. An Ozzie student once told me that Oxford had a waiting list of several years. Damn straight. Reserve your place by writing to the appropriate department.
Contacts help - ask any doctor you can to see if they know anyone at the destination of your choice. This can sometimes make the difference between an easy acceptance (plus avoiding a lot of bureaucratic hassle) and a straight refusal. If you have no luck finding contacts from past elective-goers or your medical school's elective directory, then try and look up the website of your target hospital and email individual doctors there. Don't forget to attach your CV and details of your elective dates.
It can be useful at this stage to enquire about accommodation. Quite a few hospitals offer free/cheap accommodation for visiting students. If this isn't available, try and get hold of other students that have been where you want to go, or email some local students and ask them where they stay. It can be difficult to arrange accommodation when you have no idea about the geography of your chosen destination, so ask questions! Don't be shy now.
In medicine points don't mean prizes - papers do. Actually, with MMC (see the 'careers' section of this site), points DO mean prizes, but still, that's not the point here. No matter how simple, try and arrange a project to do when you're abroad. It can be as basic as sitting on a beach and seeing if people use suncream or not (this, incidentally, doubles as both an excuse to sit at the beach and an perfect opportunity to stare at tanned bikini/speedo clad (whatever's your bag) beach goers under the feeble pretense that you're researching). With a spot of literature searching, this can then be transformed into an award winning publication on skin cancer. Not only can this get you a publication, but it can also help attract interest from the local medical folk when it comes to allocating elective places. Furthermore, it can make you money. Want to know how? Move onto step 4...
4. Money, money, money
Click on 'funding' link on the right, and write to anyone and everyone. Then write to some more people. Your old school, that uncle you never really liked but who has money, any clubs and societies you have walked past the entrance of. Send as detailed a plan of your elective as possible (including an approximate list of your expenses), and don't forget to include your CV. This is where having a project can help support your application. For example, if you've got a place to do Plastic Surgery then write to the appropriately titled 'BAPS' (that's the British Association of Plastic Surgeons) and win their elective bursary. Even though 'BAPS' is actually called 'BAPRAS' now (apparantly Plastic Surgeons do reconstructive and aesthetic work too). But we digress. Lots of the specialties have funds - either through the Royal Colleges or through charities - that may help. Often, all these kind folk need in return is an elective report, so you really have no excuse. Easy.
5. I thought there were only 4 steps?
There are. Once you've done all the above, relax. The hard bit is done, and the final planning can be done closer to departure time. But...most of you probably won't listen to us and will leave steps 1-4 until the very last minute. We know, because that's what we did. Infact we didn't have confirmed places until 2 weeks before we left, but still. Do as you're told now. It really does make life a lot easier to have planned all this in advance...
Final planning [6months in advance]
Having a means of transportation (preferrably a plane) to your destination of choice may help. Book early and try and use the 'student specialists' to get the best deals. If you have a multi-stop plan, then around-the-world tickets can work out cheaper. Don't forget to think about any internal transfers (no that's not a type of colonoscopy) that you may require. These can often be much cheaper if arranged in advance.
Revise4finals tip: if you're off on your own/in a small group, try and arrange to meet your other buddies at some point, for example mid-way or at the end of your elective. Meeting up with your group of friends miraculously becomes more fun when done a few hundred miles away from home.
If you haven't had a needle jabbed into your arm (or bottom) yet, then make sure you do. Your universities occupational health department will usually take care of this. They often give you free malaria prophylaxis, and sometimes even provide bonus extras such as sterile needles and (if you're heading to a high-risk and remote location) can also include extra prophylaxis for the big boo-boo diseases such HIV et al.
Revise4finals recommends that you don't get malaria, yellow fever or some eponymous encephalitis. No matter how cool it sounds. Or HIV for that matter. So don't skip this step.
>NetDoctor travel vaccinations
3. Indemnity cover
Make sure you're covered. The MDU and the MPS do it all, and they do it all for free. Wahoo!
4. Travel insurance
While you're at it with the paperwork, make sure you get travel insurance. Medical student + abroad + alcoholic beverages, could = medical student - bags and/or iPod.
The fun bit. Go out and buy lots of nice things for your travels. Depending on where you are going, it may be worth getting a lot of cheap stuff like underwear and t-shirts...things do start to smell after not being washed for 8 weeks. These can then be disposed of before you get back home, leaving you with more room in your bags to buy more stuff abroad (like bead necklaces and those wooden head things from genuine local supermarkets).
Don't forget important extras like mosquito nets, sleeping bag liners, anti-bug spray (DEET is superb). And money. Turns out they don't use Pounds in Vanuatu. How dare they.
6. Finally...prove you're a scabby student
Oh...one thing we forgot. Don't miss out on cheap youth hostels and cheap entry to museums n stuff. Get an ISIC card to prove you're a student.
Yet again, there's no final step. Just enjoy your elective. For many medics, this will be the last time in your young life that you have so much free time to enjoy abroad. For many medics, the elective is the best bit of medical school. It certainly was for us. Your wedding should probably be the most special moment of your life, but the elective should come pretty damn close.