The two words a young medical student, at the beginning of the journey from novice to junior doctor, clings to during mind-numbingly dull lectures on cell mitochondria and intense grillings from Consultants on hospital placements. Not least of all, during those dark and lengthy revision periods where one’s peers have already been released from the shackles of education, and you have yet to face the horror of medical school examinations. The medical elective is the end-goal. The shiny prize. The holy grail if you will. Essentially, it is a carrot dangled in front of medical students to energise us over the innumerable hurdles of a highly rigorous curriculum, towards the grandiosity of graduation (well, that and gaining the medical degree of course).
‘So what exactly is it?!’ I’m sure you’re wondering now, this far into the post.
It is a period of variable length (ranging 4 -12 weeks) depending on individual medical schools typically taken some time in the last year of study, where students are encouraged to self-organise unpaid work placements. Flexibility on location means that most students chose to explore healthcare systems vastly different to that of which they are accustomed. Whether using family connections to secure coveted spaces on medical placements in the United States or seeking opportunities to delve into the healthcare system(s) of a developing country all the way on the other side of the globe, the medical elective is a passport into gaining fresh perspectives about the life of a practicing Physician outside of the United Kingdom. Oh, and I forgot to mention… after the work placement comes the travelling!
Me? I knew my destiny included living out the medical elective as close to the Equator as possible. Sun, sea and maybe some patients was the motto.
So yup, that was my go-to daydream throughout the 6 years of medical school. Brutally shamed in front of the rest of my cohort for not knowing how many millimoles of pottasium are in the human body? Psssh. Close eyes and imagine myself onto a secluded sun-kissed beach in the Tropics, the sun injecting its rays into my Vitamin D deficient body.
And when FINALLY the last year of medical school dawned, I was ready. By the end of August I had all but finished planning an incredible five week elective beginning in Belize, Central America and ending in Mexico (with pit-stops in Miami and The Bahamas). The day-dream was actually manifesting…
Okay, this is pretty raw of me to admit, but on April 22nd 2016 when I logged onto the university homepage and learned that I had passed Medical Finals, I immediately burst into a thousand tears of happiness. Not primarily because I was a finally officially a doctor, but because I wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of trying to refund all the flight, hotel and activity tickets I’d purchased to create the once-in-a-lifetime trip!
What follows is an accumulation of personal thoughts, opinions and tips covering the travelling portion of the medical elective. Information about which hospital I did the elective in, how I found the placement, contact links etc. can be shared in another blog post.