For medics and student medics alike, taking part in electives abroad is gradually becoming a necessity, rather than just an option. Personally, I’ve done clinical electives in a number of countries but the most rewarding (by far!) have been the ones I did in the underdeveloped and developing countries. There’s something about immersing yourself in a world that’s in many ways different from the one you’re used to, broadening your perspective, gaining clinical experience, and in turn volunteering your skills, time and resources to a cause that will benefit others who might be in less fortunate positions compared to you in terms of health and privilege.
Here are just a few benefits of doing your clinical electives in the third world:
Improved clinical skills
With a majority of clinical electives in third world countries offering hands-on clinical experience, you’re sure going to get the opportunity to improve your clinical skills. The medics are kinder, more patient and very willing to teach. The patients in most cases tend to be very welcoming. These two factors make the clinical and learning environment a lot more relaxed compared to the quick-paced, nervy vibes of the regular teaching hospitals in the developed world. In addition to this, you’ll most likely see medical conditions you’ll otherwise only get a chance to read about in your tropical medicine textbooks.
Better communication skills
Powering through language barriers, for the most part, will be a key skill you sure won’t be leaving your elective without. I remember on many occasions in some remote villages, my patients spoke and understood little to no English but I still had to somehow find a way to do my job of attending to the reasons they came to the hospital. The challenge in itself was beautiful, but overcoming it (for the most part) was even better. I found that my non-verbal communication skills (which literally did not exist previously) improved a great deal, and in the end, I learned a whole lot of the frequently used local lingo in the clinical setting.
Upgrade your CV
With international electives on your CV, you’re guaranteed to stand out (in a good way) compared your peers who might have done electives at home. It’s like adding seasoning to food. It speaks to your potential employer or interviewer about what kind of medic you’re likely to be- your cross-continental-ness, amongst other things.
Meet new and likeminded people
The network of people you’ll meet on an elective is diverse. From colleagues from other clinical backgrounds and countries to staff at the hospital, to the local residents, and so much more. You’ll get the revered opportunity to build a solid international network of good friends and professional colleagues, as well as share experiences and make memories that could lead to lifelong friendships. I’m actually still in touch with many of the people I met at one of my electives in Kenya a few years ago, not just colleagues but also a couple of people that live there.
You’ll get first-hand awareness of local health issues, rather than rely on the things you’ve heard from other people or seen on TV. You’ll learn how the culture impacts the healthcare system and vice versa. You’ll get a general idea of the healthcare burden in the different settings compared to what you’re used to, and if you’re lucky, your analytical side might come up with solutions and ideas for improvement and where you can contribute in your own little way.
Electives can be tedious to put together and scary too considering you’ll most likely be off to a country you have never been to before. But the good news is, it has never been easier and more affordable to find and organize an elective like it is in these times. Medical schools, residency programmes, and companies are now taking the responsibility to coordinate electives for medics both at home and overseas. If you get a chance, book your elective and I assure you (from experience) that at the end of it all, it’ll be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make both career-wise and in terms of all-round growth!
Dr. Wendy Evans-Uhegbu is a graduate of The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, with experience in Connected Health, Medical Technology, Clinical Research, Medical Education, and Web Design. She is a member of the Medics Abroad team with the role of Chief Communications Officer. She also runs a Medical Communications and Publishing business (www.odrcommunications.com), and is the author of the newly published children’s book “The Things Around Me”.