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From Antigua to Australia: Medical Electives 2015

Photo by Charlotte Little

Ghana (Photo by Charlotte Little)

The Pembroke College Medical and Veterinary Society held its annual Elective Presentation on Friday 13th November. Six final-year students gave presentations on their recent medical electives (work placements undertaken, often abroad, during a medical degree) and offered their advice to current students.

Jon Whitby (2010) – Antigua

Jon with his medical team

Jon with his medical team (Photo by Jon Whitby)

Runaway Beach in Antigua, where Jon spent his afternoons

Runaway Beach in Antigua, where Jon spent his afternoons (Photo by Jon Whitby)

Jon arranged to do his medical elective in Antigua, at the Mount St John Medical Centre, where he worked in paediatrics. He was based mostly in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, working from 8am until 2 or 3 in the afternoon as an intern.

As a third-world country, Antigua has a fair amount of hospital equipment but struggles to acquire medicines, especially antibiotics, and expertise. Working in this environment allowed Jon to gain experience of interesting medical situations which aren’t seen in the UK.

Jon also commented that the medical electives provide a good opportunity to travel and meet new people. He advised current students to plan their elective well in advance, especially if applying to developing nations, and to consider both the location and the clinical experience on offer.

Catriona Luney (2010) – Belfast

Catriona undertook her elective at the neurosurgery department in Belfast where she had already done some work experience previously. Working in neurosurgery, her day would typically start at 8am and could involve working in the theatre, with the registrar on call or in the clinics. She also carried out some research into glioblastoma, a type of brain tumour, analysing its immunohistochemistry and its treatment and survival in patients.

One advantage of doing an elective within the UK is that is it much cheaper option than going abroad; Catriona took advantage of this to save up and do some travelling in her free time.

Charlotte Little (2010) – Ghana

Photo by Charlotte Little

Photo by Charlotte Little

Charlotte chose to travel to Cape Coast, a city in southern Ghana, for her elective. A diverse developing country, Ghana faces medical issues such as a very high infant mortality rate, an under-resourced healthcare system, infectious diseases, and poor sanitation and education. Patients also often present at a late stage of illness, which means pathologies are seen at stages which don’t normally occur in the UK. Charlotte worked in a small regional hospital, doing ward rounds and working with outpatients. The work was much more hands-on than in the UK. She also did some medical outreach work with a charity, providing free health appointments and HIV testing to communities.

Working in Ghana, Charlotte gained experience of medical cases rarely seen in the UK, such as neonatal tetanus. She would advise current students to consider using an organisation to arrange their electives, since it can be difficult to make contacts with hospitals abroad otherwise. She also recommended doing some solo travelling while abroad.

Arham Qureshi (2009) – Malaysia


Arham presenting to students in the Thomas Gray Room

Arham spun a globe to decide on the location for his elective, and landed in the middle of the South China Sea. Having revised this decision slightly, he applied for an elective in Kuching, Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo.

Arham-GastronomyMedical care in Sarawak is complicated by the multiple languages spoken in the region and by the fact that patients, as in Ghana, often present late. In one memorable case, Arham helped to treat a man who had burned his hand climbing an electrical pylon and didn’t seek medical assistance for over a week; this case was also particularly interesting as electricity burns from the inside out, unlike other types of burns, and has to be treated with the provision of fluids to prevent kidney damage.

Kuching constitutes a cheap option for medical electives, and has the advantage of the culture, wildlife and rainforests of Borneo to enjoy. Arham also endeavoured to enjoy the gastronomy of Borneo as much as possible.

Elizabeth Wicks (2010) – South Africa

LizzieLizzie travelled to Johannesburg to work at the Helen Joseph Hospital’s Emergency Department. As the only student there, she was able to experience everything that was happening in the hospital.

She worked with trauma patients with stab and gunshot wounds, assault cases, burns, and patients who had been injured in motor accidents. A major problem that Lizzie encountered was that the hospital was frequently understaffed, which could sometimes place patients in danger.

Trauma places are highly oversubscribed, so Lizzie recommended applying early. She also warned that Johannesburg is quite an expensive option, and requires the use of a car as public transport can be unsafe.

Peter Harries (2010) – Australia

Having always wanted to go to Australia, Peter had no difficulty in deciding on Sydney for his elective. Australia offers clinical experience similar to the UK. Peter spent four weeks working in emergency medicine in A&E, and three weeks in oncology. He was also able to do some travelling in his spare time.

To do an elective in Australia, students have to apply through the universities there. Peter recommended that current students should plan early and bear in mind that Australia is quite an expensive option. He also advised being willing to pester people, to think carefully about whether to travel alone or in a group, and to try and use the opportunity of doing a medical elective to go wherever you want in the world.


L-R: Lizzie, Jon, Charlotte, Catriona, Arham and Peter

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