Planning your elective

If you are considering an extreme elective, it's not usually a good idea to approach planning the way most students do: by choosing a country first. Imagine, for example, you decided to do an 'extreme' elective in Kenya. Are you envisioning a trek up Africa's second highest mountain during your elective?

You might want to take part in a conservation project deep in the African bush once your placement is finished. Or perhaps you want to practise in extreme conditions too, at a hospital serving one of the world's largest refugee camps, in the country's desert border regions?

What do you want to achieve?

It's better to think first about what you want to get out of your elective. An extreme elective can take preparation and dedication, so it should be built around your personal passions. This will give you the drive you need to take on the challenges you may face.

You may want to base your choice on an extreme hobby which you want to combine with your elective. Extreme sports carry their own intrinsic medical risks, which can be unique to each sport, so there are many opportunities to practise specialist medicine developed to treat conditions and injuries associated with your hobby.

If you're a winter sports fan, you could contact a Ski Patrol Station to arrange your elective, and hit the slopes in your spare time. If you prefer diving, you might get in touch with a specialist Hyperbaric Medical Centre on the Red Sea to gain experience treating decompression sickness.

If an 'extreme' elective for you means extreme medical situations, you need to consider your previous experience, your future career, and the type of medicine you wish to practise on your placement. An extreme elective may offer a unique opportunity to gain experience which will set you apart from your peers in future.

If you prefer the idea of an elective in extreme conditions, you could base your choice on the type of climate or terrain you wish to face. This may be based on previous experience, such as having been on mountain treks in the past, and deciding to do an elective in the Himalayas. Students who have left feedback about extreme electives report an especially fulfilling experience when they have used previous experience as a springboard to achieve something above and beyond during their elective.

If you are choosing where you want to go simply because you are interested in visiting the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic ice, make sure you research before you even start to plan your elective; you must be sure that the challenges you could face are right for you, and if you have no previous experience, then preparation will be even more important.

Arranging your elective

With any elective, there are certain key things to confirm before your placement, and it is usually best to make as many arrangements as possible well in advance of your start date. You should have confirmation from your host and your school of study, appropriate insurance and professional indemnity for the activities you will be taking part in, and details of your travel and accommodation arrangements. Depending on the country you are travelling to, you may need to obtain a visa in order to practise and study there.

In extreme conditions, there are many more factors to consider. If possible, consult with your host (for example an electives coordinator, or a doctor you will be working under), and ask them about specific preparations you may need to make for your placement, and any documentation required.

elective photo competition

Preparing for your elective

Read about the experiences of students who have done similar placements in the past. Their experience may differ from what you expect from the elective you are planning, and could help to point you in the right direction as you prepare to travel. Using the case studies and hospital feedback on our site can give you a picture of what to expect, and our community Q&A section lets you see the doubts students have come across in the past. You can also ask questions of your own to get help from previous students and The Electives Network staff.

Depending on the environment you are working in and the activities you are planning, you may need to take specialist clothing and/or equipment with you. If you will be travelling or trekking, make sure your pack is practical, as you don't want to have to cart half of your possessions around. Do not simply rely on your own judgement when making a list of things to pack; draw from the advice of past students, your elective host, advisers at your school of study, the TEN team, and anyone else who has the relevant expertise.

In terms of your clinical practice on placement, there are several ways you can prepare before you leave, to avoid being thrown in at the deep end when you arrive. Make sure you research the most common health issues tackled in your chosen destination so that you have the appropriate knowledge to make the most of the opportunity, and if possible, find out about the department you will be working in and the treatments and services provided there. It doesn't hurt to dust off your textbooks (or laptop) and revise the health issues which you may be facing during your elective.

The MDU provides student members with free indemnity for your elective. We also offer free access to The Electives Network exclusively to members in the UK. Visit our website to find out more about how you can benefit.


This article was correct at publication on 08/06/2017. It 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.

Sam Rowell

Sam Rowell is Global Projects Coordinator at The Electives Network, a non-profit with over a decade’s experience supporting MDU members in planning their electives.

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