Electives are often spoken about like the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Before the true work begins in our foundation years, electives give us the opportunity to cut loose – to have fun and see what the world has to offer us. That in many instances this can happen in far-flung places, as different to Cardiff as you could possibly imagine, is only a benefit. Experiencing the world as budding clinicians, whilst also taking the time to explore and have one last big opportunity for relaxation is, understandably, very attractive.
However, much of the language used to describe our electives hints at the potentially problematic nature of the excursions themselves. We are currently required to experience a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks of clinical placement in the country of our choice. Nevertheless, despite the amazing opportunity that an elective offers in terms of experiencing healthcare in a different setting, the idea of “going on a long holiday” factors into the decision a great deal, potentially to the detriment of the hospitals that we are unleashed upon.
In the vast majority of cases, students choose locations noted for their beauty and tourist attractions; that these same locations often seem to be found in less developed countries, ones where our presence – for better or worse – can have a massive impact, is something that we need to consider more carefully. We are amazingly privileged to be able to go to these places, but the ways in which we wield this privilege can hurt just as easily as it can help.
Entering into a less developed economy- particularly within a healthcare setting- without a clear understanding of your place within the established order, consumed with the mentality of “well, they’re lucky to have me”, smacks of the white saviour complex that Western charities are notoriously good at manipulating in order to fundraise.
As I stated before, this is not to say that our privileges – better education, greater wealth- cannot also be tools for good. We just have to be aware of this privilege in the first place.
Closer to home, there is also the added fact that being able to go on an elective abroad is its own kind of privilege. The costs involved can prove prohibitively expensive to some, and parental financing is not always guaranteed.
Considering how far in advance we need to plan our electives, it was definitely a good idea to have these workshops at this stage in the course. However, I would also argue that having the talks at this stage allows us to begin considering the wider ethical landscape that the decision to go on an elective must, by necessity, invite us into.
– Shafqat Batchelor, 2nd Year