Fitting an overseas placement into your studies

With an increasing focus on global health, the interest in overseas medical electives has burgeoned in recent years and placements are in high demand for a good reason.

One of the primary draw cards for this type of placement is that it opens up opportunities to increase your knowledge exponentially, as well as offering experiences in clinical settings that may not be available in an Australian context. It’s a chance for some students to hone their knowledge in relation to a field or spend time in an area of interest. Importantly, it also provides scope for you to contribute to the betterment of global health and has the potential to be professionally and personally rewarding. For instance, from a personal perspective, it’s a chance to flex critical attributes like resourcefulness, resilience and the ability to self-manage.    

Moreover, provided that the placement is recognised and pre-approved by your medical school, time spent abroad can contribute towards your training. With that in mind, there are a few things you can be doing now to put yourself in the best position to undertake an international placement.

Start planning ASAP

Electives are often self-arranged and students are required to foot the bill for travel, living expenses, insurances and possibly accommodation. While a number of companies now assist with these arrangements, placements are reported to fill up 12-plus months in advance. Accordingly, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) recommends starting to prepare for placements at least 6 to 12 months prior, if not more for more complex placements.

Things to consider

There’s a raft of considerations when it comes to planning for an overseas elective, not all of which are obvious. For example, in the AMA’s comprehensive publication, A Guide to Working Abroad, students are encouraged to set their goals for the placement well in advance of travel.

In doing so, amongst other things, the guide urges students to consider realistically the limits of their experience and to prepare what they might say if they’re asked to perform a procedure for which they’re insufficiently trained.

Talk to people with experience

While there’s a mine of useful information and testimonials from students about international placements, the AMA also encourages people considering this type of elective to talk to someone who’s had direct experience. Nothing beats first-hand knowledge of a region and the conditions of the clinical setting.

Draw up a timeline and work backwards

This is a useful tool for keeping track of your preparations, including the timing for immunisations, clinical workshops, cultural and safety classes, applications for leave and visas, and confirmation of placement with the host facility.

It’s also a good place to prompt you about necessary financial arrangements, including letting your bank know about your plans and leaving your banking details with a trusted party. Make sure too that you leave yourself adequate time to save ample funds to cover not only the placement, but also any expenses that will continue to accrue at home (rent, for example).

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