How to: Organise Your Elective – Some Personal Experiences

If you had up to 6 weeks away from your day job to broaden your experiences around healthcare and science, how would you spend it? Sounds like a hypothetical, but that’s the very question you’re faced on the Scientist Training Programme.  The scheme has loads of opportunities to tailor it to your interests, but the elective is by far the most flexible component; giving you the exciting opportunity to spend up to 6 weeks gaining experience outside the normal realms of your training.

I’ve recently organised and am soon heading off on my own elective at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation . So I thought now might be a good time to share some tips based on what I did while searching for an elective.


Where To Look?

What do you want to learn about – something related to your speciality or completely different? Who do you want to work for – another part of the NHS, a charity, or maybe a start-up? How far away are you willing to go? That’s a lot of questions, but by answering some of these you can narrow down the search space in which you might look for opportunities, and the routes you might take to secure a placement.

In my case, I was keen to enhance my experience in translational research within my discipline, whilst also gaining an experience of research and healthcare in other settings. This largely narrowed down where I was looking to digital health startups and university departments. Research is by no means the only suitable elective, and your interests may instead lie in increasing your clinical knowledge in another hospital department, improving your science communication abilities, working in policy, or aiding charity efforts abroad. What you do really is only limited by your imagination.

Once you’ve got a list of possible placements (it’s helpful to have several in mind as some will fall through), it’s time to see if they’re willing to take you on.

How To Secure?

I got a lot of rejections while I was looking for my elective placement and even more places that just didn’t get back to me at all. Perseverance and adaptability is something that you’ll need in the search for that perfect elective.

The most effective way to start the conversation with a prospective elective location is to use your network and see if anyone you know has contacts there. This could be through staff in your department, academics you know, personal contacts or even other trainees (aside; get involved with your Trainee Networks!).

That’s not to say that you can’t secure placements with organisations where you have no links. Lots of places are open to hosting short placements, especially when they don’t have to provide your salary! It’s all about selling yourself, and explaining what you can do. In my personal experience, I’ve found the most positive responses were when I included a brief description of my background/training, what the STP was, and that I was essentially looking for an unpaid placement.

In the end, I had several organisations interested in hosting me, with a mixture of places where I had contacts and those where I had emailed them pretty much out of the blue.

How To Fund?

The elective is your responsibility, and the NSHCS does not provide funding for this – so while you can go as far afield as you like, this is something to bear in mind. Fortunately, there are several sources that you can look for funding, especially with regards to travel.

  • Your Department/Hospital The obvious one, but variable based on local policies – funding may be available that could be accessed depending on the nature of your elective (e.g. outreach or comms funding, etc)
  • Charities – Depending on your speciality and the reasons for your elective there may be charitable organisations that can aid with funding. One that may tie in well with an elective is the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust’s Fellowship.
  • Professional Bodies – Professional bodies and learned societies that you’re a member of may provide travel awards or bursaries. These can often be competitive as you may be competing with more experienced members. Lookout if your professional body offers awards specifically for trainees.
  • Your university – It’s worth asking your university if there’s any funding available especially if your elective is related to academic work or involves attending a conference.

In all cases, it is important to know how the elective will benefit your training, the NHS as a whole as well as the organisation aiding you. It’s unlikely that for a trip abroad that you’ll be able to fund the entire placement, but every little bit certainly helps.

What’s Next?

Finding, securing and funding an elective is only the first step. I’m currently finalising the aims of my elective and doing preparatory work before I head over (this Friday as of the time of writing!) In a future post I’ll go into details on what I did to set my aims. plan/prepare, and also my experiences on the elective.

Author: Haroon

Research Software Developer at UCL. Interested in digital health, and healthcare computing & informatics.

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