How to Organise an Elective in the UK as an Overseas Trained Student

Updated on 22/05/2024 in
How to organise an elective in the UK as an overseas trained student

Medical electives are short-term placements that every student is recommended to undergo. They consist of shadowing doctors, assisting in real healthcare situations, and learning practical skills like administering injections and medical sewing. This period usually occurs during the final 3 years of the medical degree. We do recommend that students try to find any opportunities to strengthen their portfolios.

The length can vary between four and twelve weeks. Sometimes there are scholarships and bursaries for medical students to support them throughout the period. However, these are rare, and you shouldn't rely on them. The costs involved with arranging an elective are not much anyhow. Students studying medicine in Europe also have the option to complete their electives in UK hospitals.

How to Choose Your Elective

First, you should see your medical school requirements as a final-year student because some are more strict than others. Make sure that the clinic you've chosen meets all of the requirements.

Decide where you want to go. Are you interested in a specific city or a clinic? I suggest you pick a few options and contact all of them because it is a numbers game. Big cities are more competitive than smaller areas.

See what specialities are available in the chosen hospital and whether they provide you with what you are interested in. Don't be too picky if you're not a final-year student because any work experience you're offered will be worthwhile.

How to Apply When You've Made Your Choice

Make sure you make the first contact a couple of weeks or months before the designated period of the elective.

You can start by sending an email to your chosen places. Explain who you are, where you study, and your motivation to place your elective in that specific hospital. Give them some time after you've sent the email. If you don't have an answer in a few days, don't lose hope; try to find a phone number and call them directly. Remember, hospital departments are always understaffed, so they don't have time to train new people. Try to demonstrate your skills and how you will add value to the department. Be persistent; every rejection is one step closer to acceptance.

Some will accept you immediately, and some will require paperwork before confirming your place. Usually, the hospital will request your CV, confirmation that you are currently enrolled in the medicine course, and a motivation letter.

Use your network to find opportunities

Ask your family, friends and relatives if they know anyone who works in a hospital who can support you with arranging your elective. Using your contacts is always a huge benefit when putting your foot in the door so you can reach the decision-makers. Consultants are usually very friendly and are willing to show you the ropes in a work setting, but the secretaries and administrators are more limited in their ability to help. Hence, if you can directly approach a friend, or a friend of a friend, who is a doctor or consultant, you're more likely to have success in arranging some shadowing or even an elective. Even asking to shadow a doctor for a few days is great because it allows you to get close to many other doctors and ask if you can shadow them for a few days. Be as enthusiastic and personable as possible when approaching decision-makers because people help people they like.


Medical Electives are not free; usually, you'll have to pay a small fee for processing your documents, which is different for every university/hospital. Regarding living costs, the hospitals will have accommodation for their employees, which you can research.

What To Do After You Get Accepted

  • Make sure you have health insurance and Indemnity cover;

The indemnity insurance will protect you against claims arising from negligence or failure to perform. As you're still just a student and mistakes are to be made, ask the hospital if this is necessary. The majority of hospitals will have this type of insurance already. Most hospitals limit the number of tasks students can do in general because of this to avoid such scenarios arising.

  • Check if you need a visa;

You will need time to process the application, so make sure you have this part settled.

  • Accommodation and plane tickets.

While some hospitals provide accommodation, you should decide what's best for your situation. Buying a flight ticket earlier will save you some money.

Having your medical electives can present you with significant opportunities. When you set aside the invaluable clinical experience you will gain, you will also explore your interests. If the doctors in the clinic grow fond of you, they might even present you with a future job opportunity or future elective placements.

Make sure you make the most out of your elective. Don't look at it as a simple nuisance you must overcome. Some students say that the most significant benefit from electives was building relationships and networking with doctors and multidisciplinary teams in healthcare.

Electives are available in the following UK teaching hospitals:


Please, keep in mind that Barts & The London ( accept applications within only 3 short periods a year, in March, July & November. Each period corresponds to an elective period approximately 6 months after application, with a minimum of four months required between completed application forms and the start of your placement. You need to specify two specialties on your application but will only undertake a placement in one specialty.

Also, some oversees medical electives are available here:

Contact for queries:

Elective period: 2 – 8 weeks

Application fee: £200 – Not refundable if your application is unsuccessful.

Specialties available:

Surgical: General Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Trauma Surgery, Orthopaedics and Trauma, Neurosurgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Anaesthetics

Medical: Cardiology, Gastroenterology, Renal Medicine, Neurology, Paediatrics, Diabetes A&E is under a separate application process. If you wish to do an elective with HEMS.

Study Medicine Online

Students who opt to study medicine online should organise their own electives at hospitals in their country. All you should do is email hospitals in your country and ask them to organise specific weeks in the relevant medical discipline. Another way is to approach a healthcare professional in your family who might have networked with doctors in their job. Either way, it's not difficult at all to organise electives in UK hospitals. Hence, you should do it directly through the Hospital administrators.  Remember to contact as many hospitals as possible around your area. The more hospitals or clinics you contact, the easier it is to find suitable hospital placements.

Afterwards, ask the medical doctor to write a letter to you explaining how long your placement is for. This is usually used to equivalate your hospital hours into ECTS credits.

Let us know about your elective once you've arranged it. We love hearing your success stories!

Article written by Dr Sam El Mais
Dr Sam El Mais, MD, MSc, BSc, graduated from a renowned medical school in Romania in 2019. He uses his professional knowledge and personal experience to guide students on crucial aspects such as university selection, admissions processes, and cultural adjustments.
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