Funding your medical elective


If you dare ask any doctor their best experience at medical school then you’d better be prepared for hours of recollections from their elective – and if you’re really unlucky they might even whip out their photo album to share.

It can be a life changing experience, but so can finding the funding to get you there – and not for the right reasons. In this issue we look at some early steps you can take to help finance your medical elective.

Right now you’re probably more scared than excited about your elective. You’re likely to have recently travelled hundreds of miles to medical school and that’s often traumatic enough. The thought of hitch-hiking 3,000 miles into the deepest, darkest depths of the Amazon rainforest to spend time at an isolated clinic probably doesn’t seem that appealing right now.

Early financial planning is essential. Although it may be a number of years away, money can have a big impact on where you go and what you might be able to do on your elective.

The average elective time allocated by medical schools is eight weeks. Most throw in a few weeks holiday afterwards so you can top-up your tan before returning home. If your curriculum includes special study modules there’s also a good chance you’ll be able to attach these to your elective period too.

This extended time away from home means budgeting is critical. If you’re lucky, you’ll find free or discounted accommodation during your placement but make sure you account for any additional stay or travel plans before or after.

With flights, accommodation and daily living expenses it can add up to be an expensive experience. Don’t panic though, fortunately there are tried and tested methods which past students have used to fund their adventures.


A number of charities, colleges and endowments offer grants and bursaries specifically aimed to support medical student electives. Below you’ll find a list of some on offer – just remember that they’re not all going to be open to your plans but it’s worth checking which might support you.

Contact those that are appropriate or check their website for criteria. In return they may ask you to submit a report on your elective experience, or make a short presentation at one of their events.

Beit Trust Medical Elective Bursaries

Offers over 20 bursaries each year for students who plan to undertake self-organised medical electives in southern Africa.

Royal Society of Medicine

The RSM runs a variety of competitions and awards for medical students.

Royal College of Physicians

Up to four grants are available each year to undergraduate medical students at UK universities.

Royal College of Surgeons

The Preiskel Prize is an award for clinical students wishing to pursue a career in surgery and planning to undertake an elective in surgery in the ‘developing world’.

British Medical and Dental Student’s Trust

The BMDST, a registered charity in both England and Scotland, provides travel scholarships to help support medical and dental students going abroad for their electives.

You can find more grants and bursaries via


Still short of that all important total? Here are some additional ideas for raising those extra pounds –

Sell yourself – Many businesses have cash set aside to spend on good causes. Try smaller local firms first. Offer them something in exchange – maybe you’d come in after you return and give a slide show or write a blog for their website. I managed to cover the cost of an entire month’s desert expedition visiting clinics simply by offering to take photos of companies logos and products in the dunes – sure I felt daft holding up wet-wipes in front of a camel but it was worth it!

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) – VSO is an organisation which will help support your travel and expenses if you get involved in one of their projects. They’ve many health attachments on offer from public education to local health development. Full details are available on their website –

Local Education Authority – Depending on your current funding you may be able to persuade your LEA to cough up some cash. Your elective is a compulsory part of the medical curriculum and, as such, you should get support towards travel and living expenses. It depends where you live (and anecdotally seems more common in Scotland and Northern Ireland) but it’s worth a try.

Take out a loan – Probably your last preference but if it’s the only option left then it’s worth considering. It’s better than looking back with eternal regret that you didn’t spend your elective how you dreamed. Check out the ‘professional study loans’ offered by most high street banks.

The good news is that, no matter whether you can afford to travel to the other side of the globe or have settled for somewhere closer to home, your elective is likely to be one of your best medical school experiences. It’s a unique experience you’re unlikely to encounter again in your career.

Organising your elective finances is one of the biggest headaches past students report. Early preparation and budgeting should mean you can spend your time enjoying your adventure – not looking at your bank balance.


Bank Account – If you’re staying for a long time in one country it can be worth opening a local bank account and in many cases you can often open an account through one of their branches in the UK. Some UK banks also allow you to withdraw cash overseas for free. For example, with Barclays you can withdraw dollars free from Bank of America, Westpac Bank in Australia and many others. It means you won’t get charged expensive commission rates – or have to carry large amounts of travellers cheques with you.

Vaccinations – Don’t pay for travel vaccinations unless you have to. Most GP practices still offer them for free for medical electives. Move if necessary. Alternatively check with your medical school GP co-ordinator. Avoid walk-in travel clinics, they’ll charge you over £100 for some vaccinations.

Get mobile – It’s great to have a mobile phone when you’re away – though not so nice when you get the bill on your return. Text messages are usually free to receive overseas but calls can cost a fortune. A mobile phone can be invaluable for booking tickets, meeting friends and giving your number to colleagues. The advice is to buy a pre-pay SIM card for one of the local networks which usually only cost a few pounds. You’ll also find that some networks, like Three, let you use your UK phone plan overseas without any roaming costs so it’s worth checking before you travel.

Travel insurance – It’s definitely worth getting good quality cover while you’re away. Most med students take out a policy with BMA Services which costs around £100 for the duration of your trip. Unlike most other travel policies it offers emergency HIV prophylaxis for needlestick injuries. Remember you won’t be covered for ailments you have before you leave so make sure you take enough inhalers, oinments and pills with you.