Elective placements

Dominic Mear's sitting on a yakDuring your fourth year you are given the opportunity to explore a topic of professional interest to you through an elective placement. This could involve undertaking your own clinical research, either abroad or in the UK. Students often choose to undertake the elective abroad, coupling the chance to explore a topic of professional interest with the opportunity to experience a health care system in a different cultural context.

Frequently asked questions 

What is an elective?

An elective placement is an important part of the MBChB course that takes place at the end of year four. Your elective is about choice; you will devise and undertake a placement project of your own choosing. 

Because everyone’s elective is different there is no exam or numerical mark associated with this module, however, satisfactory preparation for the elective by submission of a project protocol and demonstrating that you have thought about any risks involved in your project (eg malaria risk from travel) is a requirement before undertaking the project and a progression hurdle to year five.

Successful completion of an elective project and submission of a satisfactory written report in year five is a graduation requirement. There are certain criteria that you will need to fulfil to demonstrate that you have got the best from, and learned from, this experience.

Where can I take my elective?

You may undertake your elective study in the UK or overseas. It can be in a clinical (primary or secondary care) setting, other healthcare setting or a laboratory setting.

Students often choose to undertake the elective abroad, coupling the chance to explore a topic of professional interest with the opportunity to experience a different health care system in another cultural context. However, it is equally acceptable to undertake an elective in the UK, indeed some projects are better undertaken here, or students may prefer to stay in the UK for career development, financial or other valid reasons.

How is my elective funded?

The College of Medical and Dental Sciences offers a limited number of bursaries for elective travel and living costs. As you might expect, they are extremely competitive. We also advertise and support students in applying to the large number of external funding sources available.

How long is an elective?

The elective is a six-week period of which a minimum of four weeks should be spent in learning activity. 

When can I take my elective?

Your elective takes place at the end of year four (usually beginning the second week of May). 

What hours will I work?

The actual hours of work are agreed between the student and the placement provider. 


Alexandra, a current MBChB student, answers some elective questions for us. 

How do I know what to do when I start my elective?

It is a module requirement that everyone going on their elective has both a home supervisor and a location supervisor who will need to confirm your attendance at the hospital and also provides you with information and support while you are there. The Elective Network is a great online resource to use to find a location for elective and usually provides information on who to contact for each hospital and reviews from people who have been there before.

When choosing your hospital location make sure you choose a location where they are able to provide you with an elective supervisor who will be able to look after you while there.  Your supervisor will provide you with information about what to do when you arrive and who you should meet, a lot of hospitals offer hospital accommodation which you are able to stay in usually for a cost (sometimes for free!), if this is the case someone from the hospital team will meet you and take you to your accommodation. If you organise accommodation separately then you have to organise your own transport there. 

Is there an opportunity to spend time exploring while on my elective?

Yes the total period for elective is six weeks and the placement has to be at least four weeks, so this allows you to travel for two weeks after your placement. Most people organise this beforehand and depending where you are travel in a group with friends from the University or an organised tour- this ensures you maximise your time and make the most of the travelling opportunity.

There is also time to travel around your elective location while on placement there. Lots of placements start quite early (around 6am) but finish by 3pm so you have the late afternoon/ evenings  to travel around and sight-see.

You are also not expected to attend the placement on weekends, so you are able to travel around. Speak to you location supervisor about things they would recommend to see and do – they may even be able to recommend what tours to go on and provide you with contacts to arrange trips! 

What is it like to take my elective abroad?

I would strongly recommend an elective abroad and in particular in a country that will be a contrast to the health care system back in the UK. It not only gives you an appreciation for the healthcare system in the UK but you are also able to get a much more hands on placement and exposure to things that you would not get on your usual placement in the UK; this is something most people will not be able to do at any other point in their career.

The language barrier can be a problem and it is beneficial to learn a few phrases before you go so you can say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, this leads you to build more of a rapport with the medical staff and patients, which they massively appreciate. Most of the staff are happy to translate for you and all of the local doctors that I met could speak very good English so are comfortable to translate what the patients are saying.

People are very friendly and accommodating, they appreciate that tourism is important for the country and also that medical students from the UK can bring resources and expertise, so don’t worry they want you there to help and talk to just like you want to be there!

What do students do on an elective?

Dom Mears and Alexandra Victor

Read Dominic Mears' diary of his time at the Shahid Gangalal National Heart Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal and Alexandra Victor's diary of her time at the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital in Zanzibar.

  Dominic’s elective experience Alexandra’s elective experience