How to Plan your Medical Elective in Child Health

Dr Jemma Wright, Dr Jessica Wan, Dr Rebecca Rhodes

Planning your medical elective is a huge task at the end of your time at medical school. There is so much choice – the world is a big place! We want you to enjoy your elective and make the most of this valuable opportunity to experience paediatrics in a different setting. Therefore we have created a new Global Child Health Electives Toolkit to support all medical students planning an elective in child health.

This toolkit aims to act as a helpful prompt as you consider the preparation BEFORE, make the most of your experience DURING and support your career development AFTER your elective placement.

It is free to download and share online via the International Child Health Group (ICHG) website and we encourage you to take it with you in a virtual format during your elective. This article provides a short summary of our top tips from the toolkit, which is available at


Preparing for a medical elective can feel overwhelming. There are often so many options on what to do and electives often involve visiting places that feel very different to the UK. Rather than providing yet another list of elective programme options or must-dos, the ‘Before’ section of the toolkit helps you explore your individual needs and wants.

It also has a useful checklist of practical considerations to help you stay safe and make the most out of your elective time. Make sure you thoroughly research the places you are planning to visit in advance of your trip as it can be trickier to access the internet in a rural setting. You will definitely need travel insurance but may also need to arrange extra travel vaccinations and prophylactic medication.

Throughout this section, there is lots of advice and thoughts from real UK paediatricians and medical students that have done their own elective in child health to inspire you and help you make the most of this incredible opportunity.


Approaching children in any healthcare setting can be daunting but the ‘During’ section of the toolkit gives you some gentle prompts, reminders, and resources to help you during your elective. There is advice on how to interact with children and young people, take a thorough history, do a basic examination, and consider treatment options appropriate to the setting. There are some top tips to help you get the most out of every day of your elective placement.

You may find yourself facing difficult situations on your electives. The toolkit has a number of comprehensive case studies discussing possible issues such as healthcare costs, resource allocation, safeguarding, and informed consent. Some of these situations may be understandably upsetting and impact upon your wellbeing so the chapter includes a handful of supportive resources to help you manage these situations. Remember, if you are struggling, talk to somebody that you trust and take some time to look after yourself.

Finally whilst on elective, it can be really satisfying to be able to ‘give back’ to your host team/department. If planned well with your local team, this can be done through a short audit or research project. We recommend that you feedback your findings so they can use them to shape their future practice.


Most medical students spend a lot of time preparing for their elective but forget to think about their return home to ‘normal life’. This underappreciated step of your elective is really important for your future development. Many students experience culture shock, social isolation and unresolved matters from their elective, so make sure you address them properly when you return to medical school.

The ‘After section of the toolkit discusses the role of a debrief with a mentor, especially if you have faced any difficulties during your elective. Reflection is a great tool to help you learn as much as possible from your elective so there is an example reflective diary in the toolkit.  This can be used during and after your elective to guide your reflections about your trip.  You can also use this reflective diary to help guide your debrief discussion.

We really hope that your elective in child health motivates you to develop a successful future career in paediatrics so we have included suggestions of some next steps in developing your career.  You might also find that you want to do something practical to improve international child health based on your elective experience so we have explained the role of advocacy (or ‘speaking out on behalf of a particular issue, idea or person’).


We hope our new toolkit helps you to seize the ’once in a lifetime’ opportunity provided by your medical elective in child health. We really want you to enjoy your elective experience whilst being aware of some possible challenges in advance.  We hope the toolkit gives you the confidence to seek support if needed and encourages you to arrange a debrief meeting on your return so you learn as much as possible from your medical elective. Remember to take the toolkit with you on your elective and share it with your colleagues.

(NB – not many students know that ICHG runs an annual elective prize (the David Morley Prize) for medical students undertaking an international child health elective placement and offers a discounted membership rate for students)

Authors: Dr Jemma Wright, Specialty Doctor in Community Paediatrics, Chester; Dr Jessica Wan, Paediatric Registrar, Sheffield; Dr Rebecca Rhodes, Paediatric Registrar, Nottingham

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