Pros and cons of planning an overseas elective with a service provider versus by yourself

There are of course pros and cons of planning your elective abroad with a service provider versus on your own. With a service provider you will usually be assisted through every stage of the application process as well as with all aspects of your stay abroad. Such aspects include, but are not limited to, visa and placement applications, travel and medical insurance guides, transportation, secure accommodation, onsite practical support and social networking opportunities. Some providers may also offer supervision and skills development material or courses.

Not surprisingly these all-encompassing services come with a cost, so it is important to be aware of that when considering applying through a provider.

While it can seem daunting to plan all these aspects on your own it is possible – but it does require a bit more self-determination and effort. It is important that you know what you are looking for and how to approach it. It may involve some trial and error in the planning phase, but if successful you may avoid some of the fees involved with using a provider and gain a more independent experience.

Nowadays medical electives are possible in almost every country in the world and numerous providers offer pre-arranged electives abroad.


Here are a few tips on what you should consider when choosing a pre-arranged elective:

The price differences between individual providers are often enormous. Make sure you know exactly what is included in your package. All costs incurred should be listed transparently on the provider’s website. If this is not the case, ask for a total cost statement! Compare different providers to make sure you find the right one for you.

What’s included in your pre-arranged package? Does your elective provider support you during your entire stay in the host country or are the support services limited to the application process? Does your provider offer ground support services in your host country, i.e. a local coordinator who you can turn to if you have questions? Is there a local 24 hour emergency contact? Does the provider offer help with the logistics of your elective, i.e. arranges airport transfers on arrival and departure, offers accommodation, accompaniment to the hospital on your first day, arrangements with internet/local SIM card etc.? If you can answer most of these questions with yes, you are on the right track with your choice!

Does the provider offer advice and support before your elective to ensure that you choose a health care facility that meets the requirements of your university? Select a provider with whom you can discuss the requirements of your university / school and confirm all formalities (documentation, supervision etc.) in advance.

Does the elective provider offer specific preparation materials for medical internships abroad? At first glance, cultural differences between the host country and your country of origin might seem negligible, but you will soon realize that cultural differences can play an important role during your elective abroad. This can lead to difficulties, particularly when you’re unaware of these differences. Ask your provider about information materials to prepare for your elective and request information about cultural differences that might affect you during your elective abroad!

Ask for internship testimonials of former students who have already completed an internship in the same hospital. These will give you a personal insight into everyday hospital life from the perspective of other international students.


Pros for a pre-arranged elective:

  • Making it easy for you: Many pre-arranged electives include assistance during the application process and/or ground support during your time abroad, making it easy for you to settle in in your host country.
  • Meeting other international students: If you book a pre-arranged elective you will most likely meet other international students who carry out an internship in the health care sector at the same location.
  • Mastering the bureaucratic jungle: Organizing an elective abroad is a complex task and there are lots of things to consider. Your elective provider will tell you which visa or work permit you need or which legal requirements you have to keep in mind when completing a medical elective abroad.
  • Tackling cultural differences: Your elective provider can help you to understand cultural differences in communication or at work and help you to tackle them.
  • Language barriers: English knowledge might be limited in your host country and getting formalities done or navigating your way around in a new city can be challenging if you don’t speak the local language. Your elective provider can provide useful advice on how you can still find your way around there.
  • Meeting your university requirements: Worst case scenario: what would it feel like if your university wouldn’t give you credit for your painstakingly organized elective abroad? In case of a pre-arrange elective, your elective provider will make sure that your university’s supervision requirements can be met at the hospital you opt for and will help you to obtain the necessary documentation from the hospital at the end of the placement.

Cons of a pre-arranged elective:

  • Service charges: There is usually a service charge that varies from provider to provider. To make sure which services you’ll get, carefull check what’s included in your package!
  • Self determination and effort: Planning a medical elective abroad yourself takes a lot of time and patience. You have to find out what is required for the application, take care of accommodation, find out which visa / permits you need for your elective and last but not least make sure that the hospital meets the requirements of your university. This can be very time consuming and is not for people who throw in the towel too quickly.
  • Lack of information: In many countries around the world, hospitals have no websites or only provide insufficient contact information online. The lack of available information makes it difficult to get an idea about the conditions on site and whether you can really get the elective experience you want.