Tips and Tricks: Planning Your Elective [Part 1]

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 14.17.59Since I’ve kind of started paying more attention to the blog again, my friend Caroline asked me to share some tips on electives. (Hi, Caroline!) You may remember the elective series I ran a few years ago. I haven’t exactly stopped the series, I just am not really in the position to seek out medical students for interviews anymore. (Guest posts welcome, hint-hint, nudge-nudge.)

I’ll give as much advice as I could gather from myself and friends, over a few days. Today, I’ll start off with the process of choosing your elective.

Disclaimer: This will be written with South African medical students in mind. For international students, note that some things might not apply to your program.

First: Start. Early.

If you think you’ve got plenty time, you’re wrong! I have a colleague who went to Oxford for her elective, and she booked her space for the program more than a year in advance. If you have a holiday between exams and rotations, use that time. Do not rely on the hope that things will just fall into place. (I speak from experience.)

Second: What are your goals?

(Do not confuse this with outcomes, which I’ll talk about another day.)

  • Do you want to spend time in a field you already know you love?
  • Do you want to try out a specialty that you think you may be interested in?
  • Do you want to spend some more time in a rotation you’ve done  already, or do you want to do something completely “out there”?
  • Do you need desperately for your love for medicine to reawaken?
  • Or do you need something that will build on your confidence as a future doctor?

Once you identify this, your next couple of steps become a lot clearer.

Third: Location, Location

Do you have the means to travel? If you don’t, does your university have a grant/sponsorship program? (I know that Stellenbosch has.) Within whatever limits your school applies, there is nary a place where you can’t do an elective if you approach the right people. Perhaps there is a country you have always wanted to visit. If you don’t have enough information to decide on a country yet, at least identify whether you will go local or international.

While travel is not a prerequisite for a worthwhile elective, it is fun. Remember that in order to get funding, starting early is especially important.

Fourth: Now, pick your elective (think laterally)

I recommend writing a list of all the possible fields you might consider. Then, go through the list, crossing off the ones you’re not really feeling excited about. Not feeling excited about any of them? Think harder!

Once you’ve done this, consider places that may offer those fields. For traditional fields, you could probable do it at any hospital you can imagine. For more niche electives, your options may be fewer (for example, diving medicine). Remember, you can easily request to do an elective in a place or department that doesn’t “traditionally” get elective students.

Fifth: The good ol’ pros and cons list

If you’re stuck between a couple of choices, you may need to employ this method. Also, ask senior students how they chose their electives.

Bonus: But how do I know what I can do an elective in?

Short answer: ANYTHING.

Think of things that interest you, even things that are not directly related to medicine. One colleague I know of had a particular interest in health journalism, and did an elective with Bekisisa, one of the big medical journalism websites in South Africa. He still writes for them now. Another colleague did his elective in traditional medicine, which is often eschewed by South African doctors.

And because I had the travel bug, I did my elective at Semester at Sea, even though it is not strictly speaking a medical program.

 * * *

By the end of this, you should have a reasonably tangible idea of your elective. High five! In the next couple of days, I’ll go into planning your elective.

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One thought on “Tips and Tricks: Planning Your Elective [Part 1]

  1. Hi Mariechen!
    So good to “hear” your voice again. And I am grateful your choice was SAS! I hope it brought you what you needed at that time and I hope your memories and learnings of that time resonate now deeply and with fondness and meaning. Hope all is well with you!
    ~ Nancy ❤

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