by Joe Jamieson

Why Go Overseas?

Why Should I undertake My medical elective abroad?

Go on a once-in-a-lifetime medical elective abroad with us, and you’ll gain career-boosting clinical experience in an overseas hospital. But why go abroad?

Nearly six and a half million children under the age of 15 died in 2017 (World Health Organisation).

99% of these deaths occurred in low- or middle-income countries. More than half of those deaths were preventable with interventions that you might normally consider ‘simple’ or ‘affordable’.

These facts are part of a much bigger picture. You can only begin to understand a picture if you see it for yourself.

According to students who’ve already travelled with us, there are seven broad benefits:

  • Expand your clinical knowledge and skill set
  • Become more confident and resourceful
  • Make yourself more employable
  • Do some proper travelling
  • Build your personal and professional network
  • Sharpen your language and communication skills
  • Renew your perspective on the NHS

The benefits of an overseas medical elective are numerous

— Low-resource healthcare is totally different from what you know —


1. Expand yoUr clinical knowledge and skill set

The style of medicine you’re studying is not universal.

Nor are the cases you’re familiar with. Medical conditions and treatments around the world are affected by factors you might not have even considered. Take the story of a rural farming community in Northern Sri Lanka as an example.

Some of the benefits of a medical elective abroad aren't always clear

— Issues affecting local patients aren't always obvious —

Surprising numbers of local people have been dying from a ‘mysterious’ kidney condition.

The renal department in our partner hospital in the region is inundated. There are more patients than dialysis machines, and queues run out of the department, down the stairs, and out of the building. Thanks to extremely limited resources, transplants are rarely an option.


It turns out that pesticides have been making their way into the soil. And from the soil into the water supply. The government offer filtration systems for the equivalent of £200 - more than a farmer will earn in a year.

This presents the local farming community with a conundrum. Either stop using pesticides and lose precious crops, i.e. money to feed your family. Or continue to use them, risking a shortened life on dialysis.

This is one story among hundreds, but your chances of experiencing medical phenomena like this in the UK are slim.

In our partner hospitals across the destinations we operate in, you’ll see things like:

  • Tropical diseases like dengue fever, malaria and Chagas
  • A lack of pain management (women birthing without pain relief)
  • Traditional, herbal and home remedies trusted more than modern medicine
  • Critically advanced cases (lack of primary healthcare options for most patients)
  • Massive lack of staff and equipment in under-funded hospitals

And the social, religious, economic and cultural contexts in which these all take place. Experience with tropical diseases means your recognition of unfamiliar conditions will improve. Experience dealing with a lack of resources (tests, diagnostic equipment, etc.) means your clinical judgement will improve.



"I must admit, I was nervous on my first day on the wards. I had no idea what to expect. But the doctors made me feel like a part of the team. We discussed patient management together, and local staff really valued the input I offered. This experience made me more confident, independent and resourceful." – Nurzakiah Mohd Zaki, University College Cork, Ireland

Confidence, independence, and resourcefulness are essential if you want to get ahead as a medic.

Medical electives abroad are beneficial in so many ways

— You don't know what you're capable of until you try —


3. Make yourself more employable

A few words from John, a qualified nurse who previously travelled with us as a student nurse:

A medical elective abroad is incredibly beneficial to your career

— Add something that stands out to your CV —

“An elective abroad stands out as a badge of durability, resourcefulness, and aptitude. It says you’ve seen and experienced things unknowable in places like the UK, Australia, or the US. It says you’ve solved problems and debated ethics that are taken for granted at home. It says that you've earned something few others have. The Work the World experience prepares you in innumerable ways to be a better clinician and a better citizen of our planet. Employers recognise this.”

— John Hansen Brevetti, Queen Margaret University, UK

Gaining documented experience overseas is important for your career development.

One study revealed that ‘... graduates who studied abroad as part of their degree are 24% more likely to find employment three years following graduation relative to their non-mobile peers.' Some studies suggest as many as 80% of medical students now travel overseas for their elective placements. As more and more people are heading overseas, the best way to distinguish yourself is to focus on quality clinical experience.


4. Do some proper travelling

A medical elective abroad is a rare chance for you to explore. 

It’s an opportunity to see a part of the world you’ve never seen and might never otherwise consider. The destinations we offer aren’t your typical holiday hotspots - they offer the chance for proper travel.

Here are some tasters of what you can do in our destinations:



5. Build your personal and professional network

Australia, America, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Belgium, Singapore.

You will meet fellow medical students from all over the world. You’re also going to meet students from other healthcare disciplines. Nurses, midwives, radiographers, physiotherapists, pharmacists

What are the benefits of a medical elective abroad?

— Never underestimate the value of good contacts —

"Two midwives and I became very close. We were on the wards together every day. There was so much to take in, with almost everything being different from what we were used to at home. Talking about this after work helped me to process things, taking the experience as it came, a day at a time." –  Ellenia Tumini, Anglia Ruskin University, UK

In your placement hospital, if you’re proactive, you can meet some of the top specialists, department heads, and hospital directors. You’ll meet a lot of people and make a lot of friends.

But if you’re clever, you can also build an international network of professional contacts.

Many of your fellow students will become highly successful in their fields. It doesn’t hurt to have people like that in your contacts. The old adage, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ isn’t quite right. But the ‘who you know’ part is correct.

6. Sharpen your language and communication skills

The UK is increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual.

Interacting and treating patients from different cultures and speaking different languages will be a part of your job. If you go on one of our placements, you’ll get extensive experience doing just that. The majority of patients in our partner hospitals are from rural areas. They will speak little English, if they speak it at all.

Your supervisors and some hospital staff will speak English, so they will help translate for you. But to build rapport with patients, you need to find ways to communicate with them directly.

"Don’t be afraid to be proactive and involved; a patient is a patient, regardless of their cultural heritage or language differences. Body language can be enough sometimes." – Tasha Patel

We’ll support you with twice-weekly language lessons while you’re in the country. The lessons will teach you everyday phrases and clinical language to help you in the hospital.

"There was a bit of a language barrier, but it taught me to think outside the box when communicating with patients." – Kalaichelvy Manoharan, University College London, UK


7. Renew your perspective on THE NHS

"My elective in Nepal was eye-opening. I became much more appreciative of the basic care we believe all people are entitled to, regardless of their pay. I feel privileged to have seen how local staff and patients viewed medicine and the human body" - Progga Saha, Bond University, Australia

We often find fault with the NHS, but it’s more often than not thanks to a lack of perspective. Seeing what things could be like with the NHS as your point of comparison will, as Progga noted above, open your eyes.

The account below illustrates the point well.

“One noteworthy case was a lady who had suffered severe burns. Her son had attempted suicide by lighting himself on fire. The mother badly burned herself trying to smother the flames. Her dressings were changed daily, but it seemed they were only making her wounds worse. They were applied dry and, when removed, were pulling away the healing skin. Due to relatively high cost of pain relief, she had to go without. Again, this made me grateful for the services offered through the NHS.” - Jessica Everett, University of Cumbria, UK

There are benefits you won't have even thought of

— 'Disposable' gloves are washed and reused —

When you come home, you’ll have a renewed perspective and a much greater appreciation for the UK’s healthcare system.


Whatever you want to gain from your medical elective abroad, don’t leave the quality of your experience to chance. Complete the short enquiry form and we'll get back to you.

If you're not studying medicine but still want to travel, see our other disciplines here.



Whether you want to trek through the Himalayas or chill out on a tropical paradise beach, we've got the destination for you.

What do our medical electives abroad offer?

A Work the World medical elective abroad gives you the chance to undertake a clinical placement in the developing world. You will spend time in a low-resource hospital and see unfamiliar practices and advanced conditions. You can even choose the departments you want to rotate through. Learn more here.

What are the benefits of a medical elective abroad with Work the World?

The benefits of our medical electives include:

  • Expanding your clinical knowledge and skill set
  • Becoming more confident, independent and resourceful
  • Making yourself more attractive to employers
  • Doing some proper travelling
  • Building your personal and professional network
  • Sharpening your language and communication skills
  • Renewing your perspective on the NHS


How long is a medical elective abroad with Work the World?

A medical elective abroad is as long as you want it to be. Our minimum placement duration is one week, but medical students typically travel on their medical electives for 4 - 6 weeks. There is no upper limit to how long you can travel for.

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