Electives: isn't it time for a change?

Med Educ. 2009 Feb;43(2):121-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03253.x.


Objectives: Medical student electives are memorable learning experiences, of which approximately 40% are spent in developing countries. Students often have laudable motivation but are rarely helped to learn most effectively or contribute meaningfully whilst away. Each year an estimated 350 years of elective time is spent in developing countries (by students from the UK alone), which represents substantial opportunity.

Methods: We conducted a literature search prior to developing an alternative approach towards electives based upon educational and ethical principles.

Results: Despite their anecdotal value there has been little empirical research conducted into electives. From our review we identified four key learning domains (Clinical Knowledge and Skills, Attitudes, Global Perspectives, Personal and Professional Development) and two broader issues (Institutional Benefits and Moral/Ethical Considerations). Potentially beneficial and more structured alternatives are emerging and improvements appear possible through institutional collaborations and greater planning in order to maximise the educational experience, opportunities to contribute and minimise the risks involved in electives.

Conclusions: Electives are a highlight of clinical training but probably often represent missed opportunities. There are both educational and moral reasons for seeking more considered approaches to reduce the 'medical tourism' that can result from the current largely ad hoc arrangements.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / ethics
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Ethics
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • International Educational Exchange*
  • Models, Educational*
  • Morals
  • Students, Medical / psychology