Originally, I was not planning on doing an elective in London and had my sights set on somewhere further afield. However after much consideration (paired with a handful of bureaucratic and logistical problems), I landed upon the United Kingdom as the place to experience medicine abroad. My allocated six weeks in final year were from March to April in semester one of final year. Although the timing wasn’t perfect for job applications and acquiring references, it was a great time to be in the United Kingdom with warming weather, blossoming parks, and fewer crowds than summer.
The United Kingdom, and London in particular, is a popular place to undertake a final year medical elective for Australians. With world-leading hospitals, supervisors at the top of their fields, vibrant city life, simple visa process, and a common language, flocks of us head to London every year to sample life as a British doctor. It is a great location for those seeking an elective which is both fun and educational, with plenty of opportunities to learn about a different system, improve your medical skills, and explore the UK and abroad.
I found that my elective crept up on me, and it probably will for you too. It is something you think about throughout medical school, wondering where you will go and the experiences you will have. Next minute, it is on your doorstep and you have to organise a million things at once. You need to organise which hospital, which supervisor, flights, accommodation, and plenty of paperwork. It pays to be well-organised to ensure that you get the experience you wanted and one that is both educational and fun.
Having just finished my six weeks in London and having a blast, I thought it would be a good idea to compile some tips and advice for anyone else looking to do the same. Bearing in mind that this is a personal perspective from someone at Monash University, so things might be different depending on your university and circumstances.
HOSPITALS AND SUPERVISORS
Once you have decided on doing your elective in the UK, the first thing you need to do is figure out your hospital and supervisor. To sort out all your paperwork and details on time, it’s a good idea to get in contact with potential supervisors earlier rather than later.
In the UK, you can organise your elective through individual supervisors at hospitals or through universities associated with hospitals. I did a combination of both where I found an individual supervisor first, and then applied through a University letting them know who the consultant was, and this worked well. The benefit of applying through a University is that they were very helpful in supplying paperwork and helping find accommodation.
London has dozens of hospitals throughout the city with top specialists in every field. There are hospitals better known for certain fields than others, so it’s important to research the specialty you wish to pursue and find a hospital with the best opportunities.
SOME HOSPITAL IDEAS
- Obstetrics and Gynaecology: St Mary’s Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster
- Paediatrics: St Mary’s Hospital, St George’s, Great Ormond Street Hospital
- Gastroenterology: King’s College Hospital, Royal London
- Infectious Diseases/Tropical Medicine: University College London (School of Tropical Medicine), Chelsea and Westminster (Sexually Transmitted Disease/HIV)
- Respiratory: Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust, King’s College, Royal London
- Emergency: St Thomas’ Hospital, University College Hospital, Chelsea and Westminster, St George’s, Royal London, St Mary’s, King’s College
- Cardiology: Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust, Royal London Hospital
- Neurology: National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square
You can also email supervisors directly and apply to the hospital/university with a supervisor in mind. This can be a good idea as you get a direct contact at the hospital and establish communication early. Again, look up which specialty you are interested in and look for the best hospital to find people to contact. It is worth looking up supervisors interested who are doing work that you are interested in, as there are leaders in a huge array of niche areas in such a big city. A lot of consultants will have a work email address or a secretary to contact on the hospital website, and you should email as early as possible. This method is less reliable/official than applying directly through a university/hospital but it allows you to work with specific supervisors.
Most London hospitals have an education department which deals with incoming elective students and it is possible to email them for ideas, even if you don’t have a particular supervisor in mind. If they have opportunities, they will usually email you back with suggestions of departments and supervisors available.These departments are either run by the hospital itself or through a medical school.
This is not an exhaustive list of contacts and websites for hospitals and trusts, but it is one that I compiled when I was looking for a London medical elective. Hopefully it is still up-to-date, let me know if you find otherwise.
Hospitals: Chelsea and Westminster
Elective Website: Chelsea and Westminster Medical Electives
Email Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hospitals: Royal Brompton Hospital and Harefield Hospital
Elective Website: Imperial College Electives
Email Contact: email@example.com
Hospitals: Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte’s, Charing Cross, St Mary’s, Western Eye
Elective Website: Imperial College Electives
Email Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hospitals: King’s College Hospital, St Guy’s Hospital, St Thomas’ Hospital
Elective Website: King’s College Elective Info and Application Portal
Email Contact: email@example.com
Hospitals: St George’s Hospital
Elective Website: St George’s Medical Electives
Email Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hospitals: University College London Hospitals, Royal Free Hospital, Whittington Hospital
Elective Website: UCL Visiting Medical Student Electives
Email Contact: email@example.com
Hospitals:National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square
Elective Website: Medical Elective Neurology
Email Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hospitals: Great Ormond Street Hospital
Email Contact: email@example.com
APPLYING FOR YOUR LONDON MEDICAL ELECTIVE
Most electives will require that you undertake an application process. This may be to a university or trust where you apply for several hospitals, or it could be directly to one hospital. The intensity varies from site to site, differing from a simple form to answering extended questions.
Usually, each hospital and university in London will have an official application opening and closing date. These dates vary depending on how in-demand the hospital or university is, some demand electives require twelve to eighteen months’ notice. This can cause problems if you don’t know when your elective is scheduled because you may automatically be unable to apply due to time constraints, which has been a problem for some students at Monash. Mostly, if you apply for a university elective, the dates coincide with UK study dates so open/close in relation to UK semesters. For example, electives from September 2019 to late Jan 2020 will be offered in one block, and from late-Jan to June 2020 might be another block with different closing/opening dates.
It’s important to keep in mind the application requirements at your home university too, as you usually need to advise them of your elective a few months before you leave. This requires official paperwork. Once again, this is where it pays to get in early, because back-and-forth between the UK and Australia to get paperwork done takes longer than it seems. It would be a shame to miss out because of deadlines and dotted lines.
For most hospitals in London, applying around eight months should suffice, but I would recommend investigating options up to a year in advance. This depends, of course, when your elective is and how it lines up with university semester dates in the UK. But make sure you double check that for your individual circumstances.
Some hospitals and universities will ask for an application and processing payment. This is normal so don’t freak out about it. It is usually between $100 and $300AUD and covers the costs of processing your application. Some electives also ask for payment for the elective itself, and this either either a once-off set price or payment based on the number of weeks you are there. The information about payment should be clearly advertised on the specific elective website and application portals/forms. It really does vary though. The hospital I was at had an application fee and that was all. However, the most expensive I saw during my research was an application payment of $300 and six week elective fee of $1800.
Accommodation is the thing that I struggled with the most in London. It is really expensive and it can be difficult to find places to stay for six weeks. It is often too short for short-term rentals but too long for other accommodation options. Where you stay depends on your budget, willingness to share accommodation with others, hospital location, and associated infrastructure of the hospital/university. Sometimes it is easier and cheaper if you find other students from your uni who will be in London for the same time and you can split the cost of an Airbnb/short-term rental.
Some ideas for accommodation:
- Ask the hospital if there is hospital accommodation available. This is usually in the form of flats with communal bathrooms/kitchens for visiting staff, night shift workers, and elective students.
- Enquire with the affiliated university for any student accommodation
- Join London rental groups on Facebook such as “London Short & Long Term Rent – Rooms & Apartments”
- Book a long-term Airbnb (many hosts around hospital areas are used to hosting long term medical staff and students)
- Look for short term rentals on websites like HomeAway
- Move around and stay in a few hostels/hotels/guest houses
- Keep an eye on Spareroom and Gumtree
I ended up staying at the hospital accommodation which wasn’t the most flash place in the world, but was cheap and only a two minute walk to placement. This helped me stay motivated to attend as many sessions as possible at the hospital and kept transport costs down. Consider facilities when booking accommodation too, I found it quite difficult/expensive to live in London without a functioning kitchen, for example.
VISAS AND PAPERWORK
This absolutely does not replace advice from official sources, and is merely my own personal experience.
Usually as Australian citizens it isn’t necessary to get a visa in advance for short-term study and you can get one at the border. This is free of charge and allows you up to six months of study in the United Kingdom. Of course, to be offered this visa on arrival, you need all the necessary paperwork. This includes: bank statements, copy of your return flight leaving the UK, and most importantly, your visa approval letter from the university/hospital. These need to be carried with you every time you leave and re-enter UK.
It is important to stay up-to-date with visa requirements and the website for checking your requirements can be found here.
RESEARCH AND AUDIT OPPORTUNITIES
The UK has a centralised health care system and there is plenty of research going on within the NHS. This means that there are ample opportunities to get involved in research and auditing during your London medical elective. The hospitals are usually very happy to have helping hands, especially for audit projects. Having never been involved in much research before, this was a great opportunity for me to try it. If you are in the same boat, I would recommend it! Ask your supervisor if there are audit/research opportunities at the hospital, or ask for the Quality/Safety team at the hospital who are usually responsible for various audits.
For your London medical elective, you will no doubt want to see the city as well as make it to placement on time. This means getting acquainted with London’s extremely effective but costly public transport system. When you arrive in London, make sure you grab an Oyster Card and top it up with Pay As You Go funds.
Public transport is frequent and well-maintained, so I would recommend it if you are going distances that you can’t walk. To save money, there are a few things you can do. Off-peak fares are cheaper than peak fares on the tube, and buses are only £1.50 for journeys (with a better view than being underground). The daily cap for transport is £7.00, so sometimes it’s good to cram a lot of sight-seeing into one day and make the most of the cap.
Of course, there are other options for getting around the city too. My favourite is to walk, but you can also rent a “Boris Bike” which are the city’s bike-share initiative, order an Uber, or catch one of London’s famous black cabs.
PAYMENT AND FINANCING YOUR LONDON MEDICAL ELECTIVE
Electives can be expensive, especially electives in London. It is a notoriously costly city to live and travel in, and it is hard to make the six weeks go cheaply. With electives on the horizon for a while, you might already have savings stored for the adventure, but there are some other ways to help fund the experience, too. The most important thing is to apply for everything you are eligible for because every little bit helps.
SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTS
Many universities and medical schools offer scholarships for undertaking a medical elective abroad or general travel scholarships. There are also third parties which offer grants for electives, like Avant and Bank of Queensland. It is well and truly worth applying for any scholarship that you are eligible for, the money can be incredibly helpful in allowing you to reach your elective goals without stress. For going to London, you can apply for the BOQ FutureFocus Elective Travel Grant. Some universities also give automatic grants for travel abroad, too. It is usually not a huge amount of money, but it all helps towards your experience. Make sure to apply through your university’s platform.
OS-HELP LOAN FOR MEDICAL ELECTIVE
For studying abroad, if your university counts your elective as credit-bearing and you’re a CSP student, you could be eligible for an OS-HELP loan from the Australian Government. You can elect how much you would like to loan up to a maximum of $6,791 AUD which is paid before you depart. Remember that this is a loan, not a scholarship or grant, so you are obligated to pay it back when you start working. That being said, the money really does go a long way, so if it is the thing that will help you to seize the opportunity, it is worth investigating. The official OS-HELP loan information can be found here.
You have to apply for an OS-HELP loan through the university rather than directly through the government. Relevant pages and information for several Australian universities can be found below:
- Monash University
- Melbourne University
- Deakin University
- University of Tasmania
- University of Adelaide
- Australian National University
- University of New South Wales
- University of Sydney
- University of Queensland
- University of Notre Dame
- University of Newcastle
- James Cook University
- Flinders University
Again, I’m not suggesting that you take the loan or don’t take the loan. It is up to you and your personal circumstances. It is just worth investigating because it is a great option if needed.
If you are studying overseas as a part of your course and receive Youth Allowance in Australia, you may be eligible to apply to Centrelink to continue receiving it during your studies. Studying abroad is one of the approved reasons for which payments may continue, granted you meet the requirements. To be considered, an official letter from your university needs to be given stating your dates, that undertaking an elective is a required part of your course, and where you are going. You can read more about it here from the DHS web page about Travelling outside Australia.
It is important to check your insurance when you are studying abroad. Indemnity insurance for electives is often covered in your indemnity insurance from medical school and through your university.
Many Australian universities will also provide travel insurance for medical electives which cover healthcare and other potential situations which crop up on the road. This insurance varies in how comprehensive it is for other things, like loss of belongings and trouble with flights, so double check your policy. If you are travelling with high value items, it might be worth getting out a separate policy. Ensure your policy covers travel outside of your elective as well if you are intending to travel either side of your scheduled elective dates.
If you are considering a separate insurance plan, try Fast Cover or World Nomads.
It is a good idea to get a SIM card when in the UK to be able to contact supervisors, use maps, use ride-sharing apps, and sneakily look up medical conditions you’ve never heard of before your consultant roasts you. There is a lot of free WiFi in London but it often requires a UK phone number to activate.
There are several companies to choose from for SIM cards, these are Three, Vodafone, O2, and EE. My accommodation did not have WiFi so I wanted a SIM card with loads of data. I went with the Three Mobile £35 SIM Card with unlimited data and 15GB of data to use in 71 countries abroad (included all the destinations I went to on weekends abroad, and Australia too). Three wasn’t the cheapest option but it was reliable, easy to set up, and the data was high speed.
A good website which compares different SIM cards for travellers to the UK can be found here. I found this post to be a good summary of what the big networks offer you with their prepaid SIMs.
BANKING AND MONEY CARDS
You probably won’t be able to open a bank account in the UK and it is not necessary for a month to six-week trip. Debit cards work abroad but you will usually pay transaction and withdrawal fees. There is also high security with online purchases requiring codes from your bank app/SMS. This can be tricky if you have to change phone number in the UK etc. and cannot receive the codes. Hence, I usually use a travel debit card abroad and transfer money onto it. As a student, you can get a free travel card from Commonwealth Bank if you are with them.
The flavour of the month is the brightly-coloured Monzo Card which I don’t have, so can’t review, but is apparently great for travel within the UK and abroad. More information on the Monzo Card can be found here.
A medical elective in London is great educationally, but great because, well, it’s London. There is so much to explore in this city and hopefully your supervisor will give you a few afternoons off to get to know the capital. London is vibrant and iconic, and is where history and modernity collide. As a student in London my favourite things to do were see cheap theatre shows and visit all the free museums.
There is really truly something for everyone in London. Whether you want an experience in history, architecture, nightlife, shopping, theatre, food, or art, there are hundreds of opportunities to get your fix. Armed with your Oyster card, you can get to all corners of the city. It is impossible to list all the amazing things to check out in London here, but I have a couple of posts which might help (and more to come):
Complete Guide To Exploring London
CHEAP FOOD AND DRINK
I’m assuming as a student you don’t have a tonne of spare cash floating around. I know I certainly didn’t, so finding food and drink on the cheap in London became a mission. Hopefully your accommodation comes with a kitchen because this brings costs down dramatically. Unfortunately mine didn’t, so I became acquainted with trying to find the cheapest deals for food and drink.
Cheap(er) food and coffee tip: Check if cafés and restaurants near your hospital do deals for students and NHS workers, most places near the hospital I was at offered 10 – 20% off if you were wearing your hospital lanyard.
Cheap(er) food and coffee tip: Almost all hospitals will have a student common room and a doctors’ mess (a sort of doctors’ common room) which probably has free coffee, biscuits and tea
Of the plethora of chain coffee shops in London, Pret a Manger is the cheapest. An espresso sets you back £1.75 and a filter coffee 99p. Nero, Starbucks, and Costa come in slightly higher. Smaller, boutique coffee shops usually sell espresso for around £2.20, and of course, the coffee is usually better. For lunches on the cheap, you can’t go past Tesco’s £3 meal deal which is a main (sandwich, pasta, salad or wrap), drink and snack. Itsu is a Japanese chain which is usually expensive but half an hour before closing everything is half price. Burger chains like Gourmet Burger Kitchen often do dinner deals like £9.95 for burger, fries, and drink with free refills.
Hospitals often have their own canteens as well which serve meals at all times of the day. These are often a lot cheaper than what you would pay at other food shops, and there is usually a discount for staff and students.
There are often small farmer’s markets in the different boroughs on certain days of the week. If you are cooking for yourself, it is often cheaper to purchase your groceries at markets and the produce is higher quality.
TRAVEL WITHIN THE UK
London may be an epic city that’s hard to leave but, believe me, there are stacks of beautiful places to explore within the United Kingdom. The transport network from London is pretty impressive, and it is easy to get to all different corners of the UK. Whether you are looking for coast, luscious countryside, or dramatic landscapes, there is plenty to explore.
For long journeys, I would recommend getting trains because they are usually faster and more comfortable than the buses. However, you have to book really far in advance for cheap prices. Download the Train Line app to book and easily manage your trains. For shorter journeys, coaches are the way to go and it’s easy to get cheap deals on Megabus and National Express. Prices are often cheaper during the week so going on a day off can be a cash-saving option.
Some places I would recommend visiting if you can (not an exhaustive list):
TRAVEL ABROAD FROM LONDON
One of the brilliant things about London is the connectivity of the city to the rest of Europe. It is one of the reasons people often choose to come here to study. With rail, road and air connections to the continent, it is easy and affordable to get away and explore Europe on your days off and weekends. Most supervisors understand that this is what you will be wanting to do on some weekends, and many may give you days off for a long weekend.
There are cheap deals on budget airlines like RyanAir, WizzAir and Easyjet, and you can score flights to mainland Europe for as little as £1 (which seems crazy coming from Australia)! I would suggest signing up to these airlines to be alerted to their big sales at least a couple of months before you leave to make sure you don’t miss out on good prices. If you travel light with carry-on, this is a really affordable way to travel.
Remember, every time you travel abroad you need to make sure you have all your paperwork like you are entering the UK for the first time. Border Security will ask you all the same questions and you will need your visa/study approval paperwork to show them.
PLACES I VISITED DURING MY ELECTIVE
Doing a London medical elective was the happiest I have been in med school and an opportunity I was very grateful to have. If you find yourself a supervisor and area you are interested in, it is an unparalleled opportunity to learn from the best. London as a city is a vibrant and exciting place to live, so you will never find yourself bored. Try to strike a perfect balance between learning and exploring, and you will have an absolute blast.
- Choose a supervisor and/or area that you are interested in and you will get the most out of attending
- Travel on the weekends where you can and look out for cheap transport deals
- Ask about research and audit opportunities at your hospital
- Get to know your team and the other medical students
- Complete your paperwork early so you don’t miss out on your elective
- Apply for all the scholarships and grants that you are eligible for
- Try to live close to your hospital to save on transport costs