Gone are the days when a medical elective overseas was only available to those with excess time and money. Today, various bursaries, and grants make the process accessible to any medical student, whether studying or professional. But are medical electives overseas still the optional add-on they have been for years - or are they evolving into a necessity?
We think they’re vital in order to place yourself at the forefront of a globalizing marketplace, but don’t just take our word for it.
This post focuses on what you can expect in the aftermath of an overseas medical electives, benefits you'll reap, and both the personal and professional skills you'll learn in the process.
AN OPEN MIND
Engaging in the diverse ways developing countries provide medical care will force you to look at your own way of doing things, and re-evaluate. Whether this means practicing ancient tree medicine in Sri Lanka or assisting in a Tanzanian HIV clinic, the act of challenging perceptions you’ve learnt in the western world is vital for any medic who strives to be open minded and diplomatic.
Embracing your host culture’s values, both inside and outside of the hospital wards, will also increase your appreciation for what you have access to at home, as well as providing an enormous opportunity for growth outside of your comfort zone.
‘My elective in Nepal was definitely eye-opening. I became much more appreciative of the basic care we believe all people are entitled to, regardless of their pay. I feel so privileged to have been able to experience the Nepalese culture, and see how society viewed medicine and the human body’ - Progga Saha
‘My surgical rotation was the first that I had experienced and I found it endlessly fascinating. I was constantly probing the surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses and technicians about everything.’ – Edward Spraggon
INTERNATIONAL NETWORKING OPPORTUNITIES
Taking your medical elective overseas will mean you’ll get to know a whole host of interesting characters. These might be new friends, valuable contacts, knowledgeable specialists, or patients that make a lasting impression.
Not only will this exposure teach you how to communicate with a range of people from diverse backgrounds – but more on that later – the experiences you’ll share will genuinely last a lifetime.
The international students and professionals you’ll live with in the Work the World house will lay the foundation for, or contribute to your existing international healthcare network.
‘Two other midwives and myself became very close as we were working with each other every day. There was so much to take in, with almost everything being different from what we were used to at home. You just have to accept what you see — some of which will be great, like the resourcefulness of staff, and some of which will be quite upsetting. Talking about this after work really helped me to process every day and take the experience as it came, a day at a time.’ – Ellenia Tumini
Another benefit of taking your medical elective abroad is the language barrier you’ll encounter — particularly when it comes to patients, but sometimes with staff members, too.
Stretching your non-verbal communication skills — body language, for example — as well as learning simple clinical phrases will all play their part in building your interpersonal skills.
‘I have learnt so much from my medical placement with Work the World and there are many things that I will take away from this experience. I feel more confident in myself to see patients from different walks of life and the language barrier has been tough but has also enabled me to think outside the box when communicating with the patients’. – Kalaichelvy Manoharan
‘Just being present and talking to them - we knew the words for ‘breathe’ etc - made a difference, and the women really bounced off of that. We weren't saying much, we were literally just present and rubbing their backs every now and again, which relaxed them in a way they were not used to.’ – Ellenia Tumini
‘Patients do not need words in order to be comforted; body language can be enough. Don’t be afraid to be proactive and involved; everyone is human regardless of cultural and language differences!’ – Tasha Patel
What you lack, you’ll learn. You don’t need to be the world’s most confident med student to take your elective abroad. While confidence increases naturally over time, there’s something about putting yourself in an unfamiliar environment that speeds up the process and forges a different type of empowerment.
‘Working in the General Medicine Department in the hospital was a priceless experience. I was quite nervous on my first day on the wards, as I did not know what to expect and how different it would be compared to Ireland or Malaysia. I learned the most during ward rounds as the doctors made me feel like a part of the team. We discussed the management of the patients together and they really valued any input I provided, which built my confidence and knowledge while I was there.’ – Nurzakiah Mohd Zaki
It goes without saying that the experience of an overseas elective looks impressive on the CV. It’ll stand heads above those who stayed at home, and signifies to a potential employer you’ve stacked up a whole host of skills. Furthermore, it points towards the type of medic you want to be. Spent a week learning ayurvedic medicine from a local master in Sri Lanka? Not only does this show you’re capable, but that you’re genuinely interested in other cultures and place value on the opinions of others when it comes to healthcare.
In fact, a study taken in 2013 revealed that ‘... graduates who studied abroad as part of their degree are 24 percentage points more likely to find employment 3 years following graduation relative to their non-mobile peers.’ (Di Pietro, 2013).
A former Work the World student who now works for a major global health charity in Southern Africa adds his opinion to the mix:
“An internship abroad stands out on your CV as a badge of durability, resourcefulness, and cross-cultural aptitude. It says you’ve seen, and experienced things unknowable in places like the US, Australia, or the UK. It says you’ve solved problems and debated ethics that are simply taken for granted at home. It says that you've earned something few others have. Work the World prepare you in innumerable ways to be a better clinician and a better citizen of our planet - employers know this.” - John Hansen Brevetti
If you’ve made it this far, you’re ready to take the first step towards an elective overseas. Read more about our medical electives abroad and their benefits, or call us on +61 (0)2 9199 4885 to chat through your options and any questions you may have.