How to Organise an Elective in the UK as an Overseas Trained Student

Medlink Students

Medical electives are short-term placements that every student is recommended to undergo. They consist of shadowing doctors or even assisting in real healthcare situations as well as learning practical skills like administering injections and medical sewing. This period usually occurs during the final year of the medical degree. We do recommend that students try to find any opportunities before their last year to strengthen their portfolio.

The length can vary between four and twelve weeks. Sometimes there are scholarships and bursaries for medical students to support them throughout the period. However, these are rare, and you shouldn’t rely on them. The costs involved with arranging an elective are not much anyhow. Students studying medicine in Europe also have the option to complete their electives in UK hospitals.

How to Choose Your Elective

First of all, you should see what your medical school requirements are as a final year student because some are more strict than others. Make sure that the clinic you’ve chosen meets all of the requirements.

Decide where you want to go. Are you interested in a specific city or a clinic? I suggest you pick a few options and contact all of them because it is a numbers game. Big cities are more competitive than in smaller areas.

See what specialities are available in the hospital you’ve chosen and whether they provide you with what you are interested in. Don’t be too picky if you’re not a final year student, because any work experience that you’re offered will be worthwhile.

How to Apply When You’ve Made Your Choice

Make sure you make the first contact a couple of week or months before the designated period of the elective.

You can start by sending an email to your chosen places. Explain who you are, where you study and your motivation to place your elective in that specific hospital. Give them some time after you’ve sent the email. If you don’t have an answer in a few days, don’t lose hope, try to find a phone number and give them a call directly. Remember, hospital departments are always understaffed, so they don’t have time to train new people. Try to demonstrate your skills and how you will add value to the department. Be persistent; every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance.

Some will accept you right away, and some would require some paperwork before confirming your place. Usually, the hospital will request your CV, confirmation letter that you are currently enrolled on the medicine course, and a motivation letter.

Use your network to find opportunities

Ask your family, friends and relatives if they know anyone who works in a hospital who can support you with arranging your elective. Using your contacts is always a huge benefit when putting your foot in the door so that you can reach the decision makers. Consultants are usually very friendly and are willing to show you the ropes in a work setting, but the secretaries and administrators are more limited with their ability to help. Hence, if you can directly approach a friend, or a friend of a friend, who is a doctor or consultant you’re more likely to have success in arranging some shadowing or even an elective. Even asking to shadow a doctor for a few days is great, because it allows you to get close to many other doctors and ask if you can shadow them for a few days and so on. Be as enthusiastic and as personable as possible when approaching decision-makers, because people help people that they like.


Medical Electives are not free, usually you’ll have to pay for a small fee for processing your documents, which is different for every university/hospital. When it comes to living costs, the hospitals will have accommodation for their employees which you can research.

What To Do After You Get Accepted

  • Make sure you have health insurance and an Indemnity cover;

The indemnity insurance will protect you against claims which may arise from negligence or failure to perform. As you’re still just a student and mistakes are to be made, ask the hospital if this is necessary. The majority of hospitals will have this type of insurance already. Most hospitals limit the amount of tasks students can do in general because of this to avoid such scenarios arising.

  • Check if you need a visa;

You will need some time to process the application for it so make sure you have this part settled.

  • Accommodation and plane tickets.

While some hospitals provide accommodation, you should decide what’s best for your situation. Buying a flight ticket earlier will save you some money.

Having your medical electives can present you with significant opportunities. When you set aside the invaluable clinical experience that you will gain, you will also explore your interests. If the doctors in the clinic grow fond of you, they might even present you with a future job opportunity or future elective placements.

Make sure you make the most out of your elective. Don’t look at it as a simple nuisance that you have to get over. Some students say that the most significant benefit from electives was building relationships and networking with doctors and the multidisciplinary teams in healthcare.

Let us know about your elective once you’ve arranged it. We love hearing your success stories!

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