Gone are the days when taking medical electives abroad were a luxury afforded to those with the time and resources. These days, universities, bursaries and grants, and organisations make the process easier and accessible to any medic, whether student or professional.
But are medical electives abroad still an optional add-on to compliment your degree, or have they evolved into a necessity to place oneself at the forefront of an increasingly competitive and globalising market?
This post focuses on what happens on overseas medical electives, benefits you'll reap, and particular skills you'll learn in the process.
An Open Mind
Witnessing the way developing countries provide medical care will challenge perspectives you’ve built up in the western world — whether you’re observing ancient herbal remedies in Sri Lanka or life in a rural Maasai clinic.
You’ll become increasingly grateful for what you have access to at home, and develop a new empathy for cultures that have less. When working in the hospitals and embracing your host culture’s values — especially on a clinical level — you’ll begin to challenge yourself and develop professionally as a result.
‘My elective in Nepal was definitely eye-opening. I became much more appreciative of the basic care we believe all people are entitled to, regardless of their pay. I feel so privileged to have been able to experience the Nepalese culture, and see how society viewed medicine and the human body’ - Progga Saha
‘My surgical rotation was the first that I had experienced and I found it endlessly fascinating. I was constantly probing the surgeons, anesthetists, nurses and technicians about everything.’ – Edward Spraggon
A Network of Contacts
You’re going to meet a whole host of characters on your medical elective abroad; from the students and staff you’ll live with to patients and specialists in the hospital.
Not only will you learn how to communicate with people from all walks of life (more on that later), but you’ll share experiences with them that will last a lifetime. Friends you’ll live and work with will lay the foundation for, or contribute to your existing international network of professionals.
‘Two other midwives and myself became very close as we were working with each other every day. There was so much to take in, with almost everything being different from what we were used to at home. You just have to accept what you see — some of which will be great, like the resourcefulness of staff, and some of which will be quite upsetting. Talking about this after work really helped me to process every day and take the experience as it came, a day at a time.’ – Ellenia Tumini
Choosing to take your medical elective abroad often involves navigating a language barrier, particularly when it comes to patients. Using non-verbal communication to convey ideas — as well as learning simple clinical phrases in your host county’s language — will stretch your interpersonal skills.
‘I have learnt so much from my medical placement with Work the World and there are many things that I will take away from this experience. I feel more confident in myself to see patients from different walks of life and the language barrier has been tough but has also enabled me to think outside the box when communicating with the patients’. – Kalaichelvy Manoharan
‘Just being present and talking to them - we knew the words for ‘breathe’ etc - made a difference, and the women really bounced off of that. We weren't saying much, we were literally just present and rubbing their backs every now and again, which relaxed them in a way they were not used to.’ – Ellenia Tumini
‘Patients do not need words in order to be comforted; body language can be enough. Don’t be afraid to be proactive and involved; everyone is human regardless of cultural and language differences!’ – Tasha Patel
You don’t need to be the world’s most confident student to take your medical elective abroad, because what you lack, you’ll learn. While you’ll increase in confidence at home, there’s something about putting yourself in an unfamiliar environment that forges a different type of courage.
‘Working in the General Medicine Department in the hospital was a priceless experience. I was quite nervous on my first day on the wards, as I did not know what to expect and how different it would be compared to Ireland or Malaysia. I learned the most during ward rounds as the doctors made me feel like a part of the team. We discussed the management of the patients together and they really valued any input I provided, which built my confidence and knowledge while I was there.’ – Nurzakiah Mohd Zaki
It goes without saying that having experience related to a medical elective abroad on your CV looks impressive. You can be sure it’ll stand out compared to those who undertake electives at home. The potential employer reading your CV will know exactly what taking your elective abroad signifies, the skills you’ll learn there, and the type of medic you aspire to be.
In fact, a study taken in 2013 revealed that ‘... graduates who studied abroad as part of their degree are 24 percentage points more likely to find employment 3 years following graduation relative to their non-mobile peers.’ (Di Pietro, 2013).
One of our former travellers who now works with a major global health charity in Southern Africa had this to say:
“An internship abroad stands out on your CV as a badge of durability, resourcefulness, and cross-cultural aptitude. It says you’ve seen, and experienced things unknowable in places like the US, Australia, or the UK. It says you’ve solved problems and debated ethics that are simply taken for granted at home. It says that you've earned something few others have. Work the World prepare you in innumerable ways to be a better clinician and a better citizen of our planet - employers know this.” - John Hansen Brevetti
So, when exploring medical electives abroad, benefits will present themselves at every turn.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re ready to take the first step towards an overseas elective. Read more about our medical electives abroad, or call us on +44 (0) 1273 974 634 to chat through your options.