One of the most exciting stages of a medical student’s journey is their first clinical placement. Learning about the theory underpinning the human body and its systems is fascinating, but it’s much more illuminating to see this theory being applied to help real people. Although any and all clinical exposure is invaluable to a medical student, getting involved in an international clinical placement may be one of the most enriching experiences one can undertake! The advantages of securing a clinical placement overseas are numerous: you are able to work alongside globally renowned medical professionals, you learn how to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, you pick up unique local skills and techniques, and, perhaps most alluringly, you get to visit bucket-list destinations while enhancing your CV. Now while all this may sound exciting, you may be confused about how to actually secure a clinical placement abroad in the first place. Navigating the world of international placements can appear initially daunting, but it’s nothing a few helpful tips can’t clear up.
- Use your seniors!
Your direct seniors in medical school should be your first port of call if you’re interested in acquiring a clinical placement abroad. Not only are they easily accessible but they also know what it is like to be in your shoes and, coming from the same medical school, will likely have similar experiences and expectations. Your senior peers may be able to put you in direct contact with the hospital/agency that organized their placement for them, and may even be willing to write you a letter of recommendation! And if the thought of reaching out to more experienced students makes you nervous, just remember that they are most likely very eager to help a fellow student out and share their advice.
- Reach out to your professors
Although your professors will not have recently applied to overseas clinical placements, unlike your senior peers, they will probably have a more thorough understanding of your capabilities, skill level, and disciplines of interest. For instance, if you are particularly interested in undertaking a pediatrics clinical placement overseas, you would want to speak to one of your professors specializing in pediatrics in case they might be willing to put you in contact with a colleague working abroad. Since most medical school professors are extensively involved in global research and clinical teaching, they will most definitely be in contact with overseas clinicians and, at the very least, will be able to recommend that you apply to a particular program or hospital that several students at your medical school have had previous success with.
- Check for prerequisites
Securing your dream international clinical placement requires significant forethought and pre-planning. If you are confident you want to undertake a clinical placement abroad, look into the programs and countries you are interested in well in advance of when you want to apply so you can ensure that you satisfy any program prerequisites. For example, certain programs/placements may mandate that you have completed specific university courses or medical training. Many students don’t realize that competitive programs have prerequisites and/or other specific requirements and, unfortunately, end up just barely missing out on an experience of a lifetime. So if there’s one thing you take away from reading this, remember to always, always check for program prerequisites!
- Rack up the relevant work experience
Unfortunately, since international clinical placements are so popular, they also tend to be highly competitive. This means that you should ensure your CV is as polished as possible before you apply to the program of your choice. To ensure the best chance of success, you should take up all opportunities you receive early in medical school to rack up work experience relevant to the clinical placement you are aiming to apply to. For instance, get involved in plenty of research if you are applying to a research-heavy hospital or shadow your local GP if you want to participate in a GP placement.
- Know there is more than one option
While it’s easy to get hung up on that one dream overseas placement, know that there is more than one option. You should always remain open-minded and carefully consider all the overseas clinical placement options available to you before committing fully to pursuing just one. This means you should look at multiple countries— even ones you may not have previously considered— as well as several different hospitals and specialties. Although it may be disappointing to not receive an offer to undertake your dream clinical placement, find solace in the fact that all placements overseas are essentially built equal: any overseas clinical placement is sure to be enriching and will come with the same benefits of cultural immersion and personal development.
- Trends are your best friend
While the general consensus is that unique and meaningful experiences set you apart from the crowd, if you are really struggling to secure a spot at an overseas clinical placement, you will have to rewire your thinking and accept that sometimes trends are your best friend. Essentially, this means that you should dig up some research on the countries and clinical placements with whom students from your medical school have had the most success in the past. Sometimes hospitals or organizations develop working relationships with medical schools when students from that particular medical school consistently choose to undertake their clinical placement with them. This means that there are some clinical placements you are more likely to get accepted into on the basis of the reputation of your medical school. Of course this is not to say that you should simply go with the grain and apply to a placement you are not interested in based on past trends of success. Listening to the trends is more of a ‘last resort’ tip that might give you an edge if you are really struggling!
- Consider partnering up with a medical elective agency
If you have tried contacting your senior peers and professors to no avail, the next step may be to partner up with a specialized medical elective agency. Although these agencies may charge a hefty fee for their services, they tend to have considerable success in matching up their clients to one of their partnered overseas hospitals or programs. Moreover, even though you may have to pay a fee to enlist the services of a medical elective agency, they typically give you a guarantee of an overseas clinical placement or your money back. The best way to find a trusted agency is to ask your peers and professors if they are able to put you in direct contact with one. Alternatively, there are several such agencies that are relatively easy to find through a quick Google search.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Securing an international clinical placement is all about early commitment and research, and you’ve just got a head start. Hopefully you now have a better feel of what overseas clinical placements entail and how you might go about securing a spot in a dream program. Happy hunting!