Whatever you want your elective to be, the key is to think and plan ahead - and most importantly, dream big! Alexa Cunningham from The Electives Network offers some advice.

Going on your elective can be a once in a lifetime experience. It can change how you practice medicine, influence your choice of specialty, and for some it can reshape their view of the world.

Luckily, as an MDU student member you are not on your own. The MDU has been partnering with The Electives Network (TEN) for the last fifteen years to help students plan their electives.

The Electives Network is an amazing online resource, which allows you to search through a database of over 2,800 placements in over 150 countries. It's a unique facility set up by a medical student for medical students, and contains case studies, feedback and funding advice alongside numerous other benefits tailored to help you.

The elective you choose is an opportunity to tailor your student experience and get a leg up on the applications you will have to write in the future. So when you start planning, do everything you can to make your elective tailored to your own interests and your own unique skills.

Think carefully about what your priorities are; do you want to focus on location, specialty or cost? Or are you looking to incorporate a particular experience into your elective? Many students think about doing some activities like trekking, skiing, diving or mountain climbing whilst on their elective. Have a look at the 'Something Different' section on The Electives Network website and read through the case studies to get some interesting ideas.

Wish list

TEN's interactive planner can help you to search within the date range you would like to go, and for placements that provide your preferred specialty. You will be able to browse through some of the most renowned hospitals in the world, or even find a hidden gem.

Find out about the healthcare system in countries you are interested in and, above all, make sure that your universities permit students to travel to that location. It's always a good idea to check that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office states that the particular areas you are planning to travel to are safe.

Try to make a list of places you would like to go, specialties you might want to do further on in your career. Think creatively and think big! Medicine has a role in most walks of life, so if you want to work in a Hollywood film studio, visit Everest base camp, or practice sports medicine at a World Cup, you can…with the right planning, resources and amount of time!

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Yongyut Kumsri

Finding the funds

Once you have an idea of what you want to do, it's time to confront those more practical concerns. How are you planning on funding your elective? Have you saved up? Don't worry if not, most students don't have a piggy bank ready to raid. But those students who get creative by applying for bursaries and grants and even fundraising are often amazed at the success they have.

TEN has lots of funding tips and a number of funding opportunities listed on their database. Remember, if you can't cover the costs of exotic locations then get creative closer to home. Look at budget flight locations, or the vast array of exciting opportunities in the UK. And don't forget to use the resources provided by your university and Medical Societies. There are often many great funding opportunities and elective ideas much closer to home than you would expect.

Timing is everything

Once you have some hospitals or placements shortlisted, be realistic and apply in good time. Many placements now have specified application windows and these can vary from three months to two years in advance, so make sure you make a note of when you need to apply. You don't want to miss the chance of a lifetime due to poor planning.

If you are looking to complete an elective in a remote clinic then don't always expect an email address to be your point of contact. Sometimes a phone call can be the best route to make sure you have the right contact and you have submitted your application correctly. Similarly, don't expect an immediate response. Sometimes clinics can take weeks and even months to get back to you.

Be realistic and apply in good time...You don't want to miss the chance of a lifetime due to poor planning.

Tick the boxes

The application processes for electives can be very different depending on where you want to go and what you want to do. Think about what academic requirements there might be and what supporting documentation you might need for your elective. It's important for you to know what Visas you might need, if any, and also to be an expert on what insurance you need. Have a look at the checklist of insurance requirements on the TEN planning guide to make sure you get the right insurance.

Once you have narrowed down your choices to one, make sure you have a backup. Electives can fall through at very short notice and it's a good idea to know you have a plan if that's the case. Try to link any flights or travel plans you have so they are easy to alter to your second choice. Get a good travel guide for the area you are visiting, which can give you an idea of the local do's and don'ts.

Similarly, use your elective contacts at the hospital or clinic to gain as much information and advice as you can. Ask them about what you will be expected to wear. Where are the best places to stay? How much should the accommodation cost you? They will be the experts and usually they will have helped many previous students.

Remember, access to The Electives Network is free through your student membership with the MDU. Make the most of this amazing resource and start planning your elective now!

We can provide free indemnity for your clinical practice during your elective.

Visit the MDU website and find out about indemnity while abroad, as well information on how to plan for your elective, reports from other students, competitions and more…

This page was correct at publication on 22/04/2016. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.