by Joe Jamieson

The success of an independently organised placement hinges on research, patience and often a hefty dose of luck. Going solo means the aspects of your clinical experience most likely to shape your placement rest beyond your control – the department you’ll work in, who your supervisor will be and the areas you’ll be able to specialise in.


Surgical team in Kandy, Sri Lanka

There’s no two ways about it; developing a trusting relationship with a remote hospital – who most likely has limited electronic communications - will be difficult. Whether it’s due to miscommunication or misunderstanding, people have the capacity to let you down no matter how meticulous you are in your own preparation.

Take, for example, one student who had independently organised an elective in Nepal. He arrived at work to find that the hospital had no record of his application, so staff sent him away with little explanation and no other options.  

We also hear from students who find themselves in a tangle of red tape for the first few days, wasting much of the precious time they’ve organised.



Once you’ve managed to get inside the hospital, your relationship with supervisors can also prove a minefield. You could have the time of your life gaining priceless clinical experience, or spend six weeks feeling frustrated, alienated and eyeing up early flights home.

Your supervisor will be responsible for which departments you’ll have access to in their area of expertise. If you have no prior relationship with your chosen hospital, rarely will such questions yield straight answers.

And, because the concept of a placement is not universally understood, organising independently could mean having to explain your skills, abilities, and aims to confused staff.

One student wrote on a BMJ forum that upon starting his placement, his supervisor left the hospital thinking another doctor was arriving to cover his two-week holiday.


Hunt Kyle

If there isn’t a structure behind your placement, could you be taking your supervisor’s attention away from where it’s most needed? Will you be expected to perform procedures you’re not trained in? With the primary reason for your elective being to learn and best prepare yourself for a successful professional career, the ethical questions posed by an independent elective are hard to ignore, and harder to tackle responsibly.


Buncombe Paul, Ashleigh Chiteme, Samantha

If you don’t speak the local language, sourcing a suitable place to stay for the duration of your trip will also be tough. What sort of living conditions are you expecting while you’re away? How will you get to and from the hospital? Can you tell where the safe areas of town are? Ensuring you’ll be safe and comfortable without adding any extra burden on the hospital – although possible – is a difficult feat.

We’ve spent over a decade fine-tuning an elective tailoring service that guarantees meaningful clinical and cultural experiences. You didn’t get where you are today by relying on luck, so choose the option over which you have total control.

Read more about our clinical placements abroad.

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