Category Archives: Electives

Planning your Elective by Dr Z Dana Huq

Dr Dana Huq courtesy of Yue Guan

Dr Dana Huq courtesy of Yue Guan

Dr Z Dana Huq, a former Cardiff University student now working as an F1 at the Heath hospital, gave an informative talk to the second year medical students about his experience with planning an elective.

He originally planned to go to Sharm el Sheikh for a 5 week elective at the Hyperbaric Medical Centre as he is a keen scuba diver. However, due to the unsettled political status of the country at the time, the elective had to be cancelled and reorganised. After enquiring at several different hospitals across the world and hearing little back, he decided on an elective at Fremantle Hospital in Perth, Australia. He spent 5 weeks there, working in the Hyperbaric and A&E departments and enjoyed his elective immensely. He benefited in particular by gaining experience in hyperbaric medicine which he was thinking of specialising in at the time. However, he found the A&E specialty and the clinical experience he gained from working in a fast paced environment to be more appealing to him and his future career decision. He gained experience in suturing, nerve blocks and night shifts in a foreign healthcare system and recommended Australia highly as a place for great clinical experiences as well as leisure opportunities.

Dr Dana Huq advised on the practicalities of organising electives from selecting the country to booking flights. His take home messages were to have back up options if elective plans fall through, investigate hidden costs, especially if travelling to first world countries such as Australia and America and to start planning early.

By Katie Field

Electives: to work or to play?

I will be honest, when I first heard about having these elective seminars I was a little perplexed, thinking it premature. However, after having the fifth year students and a recent Cardiff graduate explain I am already excited for mine… even if it is a while off, let alone several (i.e. many, many) exams away.

So, to the question posed: to work or to play? Or even an equal measure of both, which seems to be the usual option after chatting with the fifth year students; some of whom will presently be jetting off to all manner of places: Samoa, Sri Lanka, Australia, and even Bridgend.

I say Bridgend as the shock revelation was that one’s elective need not be on a beach with a surfboard within close reach. Instead others decide to push the scales more in favour of the “work” side. With electives taking place in some research hubs, and a lab-coat rather than wetsuit being the clothing of choice.

The “work” side not being entirely lab-bound, on the contrary it would appear that students bound for some destinations, especially African ones, are to be getting “stuck in”. With one story being that some students could well end up being in charge of a ward. Naturally as a second-year student the idea sent my eyebrows somewhere up into the stratosphere. The prospect of being in charge of a ward in a few years being far more terrifying than the dreaded 9am lecture.

Naturally other students decided to nudge their scales more towards the “play” side. With one’s elective being the last chance to let one’s hair down before being plunged into the behemoth that is the NHS, it would make sense to enjoy that last opportunity. After half-a-decade of intense study, demanding placements and all the other rigmarole that comes with being a medical student it was emphasized to choose an elective that is enjoyable. Of course that will vary from student to student, some thinking that a few months in a lab is heaven, and others recoiling at the mere utterance of such an idea.

And then there is the typical idea of an elective: the third option, the balancing of the scales so that “work” and “fun” can both be crammed in together. After all I rather think a pair of shades and a stethoscope rather complement one another.

By Ben Schroeder (2nd year Medical student)

“My elective and what it did for me” by Dr Z Dana Huq

Dr Dana Huq courtesy of Yue Guan

Dr Dana Huq courtesy of Yue Guan

Dr Z Dana Huq is an FY1 at the University Hospital of Wales and a Cardiff University graduate. He kindly agreed to share the experience of his elective as a final year medical student. In order to make the most of this unique opportunity, he advised choosing an elective based on something you enjoy. Dr Huq had an interest in scuba diving and travel, so originally chose to do a 5-week elective in hyperbaric medicine in The Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Sharm el Sheikh. However, due to the unsettled political status of the country at the time, Dr Huq had to cancel and reorganise his elective, which he chose to do in Fremantle Hospital, Australia.

In planning this elective, there were a number of expenses to consider, including vaccinations, visas, administration fees and a medical, on top of accommodation and flights. Therefore, it’s extremely important to take cost into consideration. Moreover, as Dr Huq discovered, your planned elective may be cancelled or changed at the last minute and so being flexible is essential.

Although costly, there are many benefits of going on an elective overseas. Dr Huq had the opportunity to experience a new healthcare service, perform procedures that would not have been possible in the UK and travel. After all, an elective is more than just medicine; it is an opportunity to travel the world and meet new people – so above all else, enjoy yourself!

By Sophie Rees and Katie Field

Electives and Privilege

Electives are often spoken about like the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

light-at-end-of-tunnelBefore 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

More perspectives on electives

Three very friendly, lively and approachable fifth year medical students gave the elective talk. Structured around the FAQs of electives, the talk was focussed and to the point. The importance of early planning was emphasised as some hospitals are competitive and the whole process of applying can take several months. Financial planning is also crucial as it’s easy for costs to pile up! The fifth year students were helpful and suggested several websites for those interested in finding out more about medical electives.

The second year students responded well to the talk, listening intently and politely. The feedback was very positive. Students liked the laid back approach of the speakers and appreciated the content being delivered to small groups rather than the entire year collectively. They appreciated all the advice given and were surprised by how early one could start planning for their elective.

Some of the questions raised included; dealing with language barriers, travel insurance, possible restrictions. The fifth years were well equipped to answer these questions, providing useful and honest answers.

Interestingly, the 2nd years students suggested that they would be interested in a further session once the older students had returned from their elective, or failing that perhaps rescheduling the first session so that it is delivered post-elective

Overall the session was successful and helpful for the 2nd year medical students. They enjoyed the talk and gained valuable information and inspiration in planning their future electives.


Stephanie Thomas

A Hitchhikers Guide to Electives

This afternoon in UHW there was an exciting and informative Q&A session for second year students led by three 5th years who are just days away from going on their electives..

Where are you going? When do you have to organise it?

As a general rule:

  • developed world/applying as a large group/specific specialty in mind = competition for placements
  • developing world/applying as a pair or alone/no strict preference for speciality= more placements available.

With competition for places, knowing where you want to go is beneficial and so is casting a wide net. Email as many institutions as you can and be prepared to chase people for responses, you may have to resort to phoning them to get a response. Ask those who have recently returned, your foundation doctors on the wards and your peers for contacts, ideas and inspiration.

 The £££ side

An elective can be an expensive 2 months! Even with a free placement always check what your living costs will be – rent, food (are there cooking facilities), laundry. Then there are the logistics – you are not a tourist – work visas are more costly if they are needed and of course there are flights to consider. From sunblock to thermals if you are going overseas you will need to buy supplies.

Home or Away?

Remember there is always the option to stay in the UK and follow an interest – work with the Air Ambulance, work at a specialist centre (like GOSH), get involved in research. Better your CV, follow an interest or have a bit of a ‘work-holiday’ – they are all valid reasons to do what you want to do on elective.

For more information all 5th year students recommend The Electives Network (TEN), a not-for-profit website of global contacts associated with MDU.

You won’t be getting this chunk of time as a doctor, so don’t waste it!

Happy travels!

Elizabeth McAleer – final year student

Perspectives on Electives

This talk was lead by three fifth years, two girls and one boy.

After a friendly and welcoming introduction, the speakers explained what they had planned for their upcoming electives. Each explained why they had chosen their elective destination and what they hoped to do whilst away. It was clear that the 2nd years were listening intently and this was emphasised by the barrage of questions at the end.

Much of the talk focused on the practicalities of planning an elective; timescales, raising money (think bursaries!) and general tips. It may seem early for the 2nd years to start thinking about elective and many of the 5th years admitted that they didn’t begin plans theirs until their fourth year. However there was still a lot of opportunity for them to ask any questions!

Many types of unique electives were discussed and this highlighted that the elective period is each student’s opportunity to plan their own unique trip. The session soon became a relaxed conversation and questions shifted from electives to other pertinent topics that were more relevant to them in second year, the 5th years were flexible and addressed these questions honestly and professionally but delivered with a joviality that brightened up the session and made the speakers seem very approachable.

If I were giving advice to the speakers, it would have been to begin the session in the open, conversational and informal way that they ended for a fully engaging talk. I think the content was perfect and informative, but perhaps delivered a little early to be relevant for the 2nd years. It was nice to have a point of contact that allows students to ask questions and receive honest answers from older students rather than hearsay from the University.

In summary the session was well planned, well delivered, friendly, interactive and informative. Well done!

Amy Bannerman

The Elective Collective

A group of Yr 5 Cardiff Medical students got together to discuss the merits and downfalls of the elective period with some eager Yr 2 Medics. The theme being where they are going and how they’ve managed to get it booked.  The speakers had chosen 3 quite different countries and all had some excellent advice to share. The electives countries were: New Zealand, India and Vanuatu (a little group of Islands west of Fiji)

The talk seemed to be a hit with all the 2nd Years as everyone listened intently to the advice being given at the front. They also had some good questions too. “Are the electives mandatory?” and “Is there any funding available?” answers being Yes to both questions but a lot more detail was given by the 5th Years who were more than happy and able to respond.

Some very valuable information was shared during the talk but there were a few Key take home messages that they wanted to share:

  • Go where you want to go, don’t rely on your friends wanting to go to the same place as you. Everyone is different and may want something different from this experience. Urban or rural, abroad or at home.
  • Start arranging early. The earlier the better if possible. Some placements are very lucrative to others so the longer you leave it the less chance your opportunity will still be there. And email everyone you can as some people may not respond to your emails or emails from website may not have been updated. Also flights will be much cheaper!

Bottom line is that electives are there for you to experience healthcare that you may never have the chance to again. And there’s always the opportunity for a bit of a holiday too. Enjoy.

Rhys Billinghurst – 5th Year Medical Student

Perspective on Elective

With Cardiff’s year 5 students just days away from going on their medical elective,  now is the perfect time for them to share advice with those that have an elective to forward to. A room full of Year 2 students turned up to hear what three year 5 students had to say.

Charlotte Orr will be travelling to Tanzania very soon. Having not done much travelling herself it was a big decision to go to a developing country and she was able to inspire the year 2’s to think about making the same bold move.

Tanzanian experience;

  • First language is Swahili
  • Little electricity
  • No running water
  • Peak malaria season
  • Busy!
  • Cooked for over coal fire

Next up was Sophia Thompson who will be going to Sri Lanka.  Using the Electives Network website she found a hospital that did electives and that was also close to the beach! Sophia was an example of a student who was using people who lived local to the hospital to stay with- a great way to save money!

Our final year 5 student came with lots of tips for our year 2’s;

  • Stay with friends or family abroad
  • Plan early,  particularly if you want to go to Canada or America
  • Start saving as bursaries are hard to get and are of little value
  • Some locations will require Visas
  • There’s no shame in staying in the UK

A tip that all three students gave was to try and organise as much of your elective independently as you can!  This is because although organisations do most of the planning for you it comes at a high price!!

Hannah Cranch – Final Year Student

Elective workshop – Carla’s perspective

Katie is sharing her experiences about organising her elective; she’s fantastically giving advice where to find useful and legitimate contacts. Katie had a bad experience with the first hospital withdrawing their offer, which she has helpfully shared with the group. Useful advice – always have a backup!

Hattie has used contacts which she has gained throughout her 5 years at medical school, which she has found incredibly useful. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you go, as long as you as an individual are happy in what you achieve during that time period. Also, Hattie advises to use the elective as an opportunity to travel because it’s unlikely you’ll get such an extended period to do so in your early career.

Sophia is taking the opportunity to gain more experience to aid her F1 year by visiting a more developed country; she’s also doing 6 weeks in the hospital.

Frequent questions which have been raised are mainly concerning cost and in a nutshell, it completely depends what you do and where you go! Some people stay in Wales and others visit countries which are cheaper, such as Asia. New Zealand, Australia and America are often more expensive choices.

It has also been suggested for 2nd years to begin exploring bursaries; for example, ask if any local organisations would be interesting in sponsoring you.