The medical elective. It’s been around in British medical curricula since the 1970s and has been a great source of adventure for many a medical student. Whilst the GMC do not have specific criteria for what must be accomplished during a medical elective, students can pursue anything from clinical placements to volunteering, with many choosing to travel overseas.
University of Manchester medical student, Prakhar Srivastava, managed to secure a couple of overseas placements as part of his elective year, and you can read all about his trip to Melbourne here. Now it’s time to focus on part two of his elective, in Maine, USA…
For my US elective, I had aimed to secure a placement at a large University hospital but encountered huge hurdles in the form of prohibitive tuition fees and requirements for US test scores.
By serendipity, I stumbled upon the website of Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) in Lewiston, Maine, who accepted UK exam transcripts, zero tuition fees and provided me an apartment to stay in free of charge! So, when organising your own elective, try, try and try again! Perseverance and opportunism can work wonders and for me, this meant four weeks split between Infectious Diseases and Neurology.
Sometimes, less is more
I’ll be honest. Sometimes, I forget that being a medical student is about learning the basics first. I find this difficult when I read articles about robotic surgery, cancer immunotherapy and stem cell therapy. This was especially the case when I was at the Peter Mac just a few weeks ago, a globally renowned research institute. But for four weeks at CMMC, I got back to basics and worked every day in a one to one ratio with experienced consultant physicians, learning about bugs, brains and billing – an eye opener for us NHS junkies. Above all, my experiences in Lewiston and Melbourne revealed that doctors across the globe are more similar than different – many if not all simply want the best for their patients.
Apart from medicine, I managed to enjoy my time in Lewiston despite not having a car. There was a nearby river with a great walking trail, several small parks to explore and one weekend there was even a hot-air balloon festival! And for full disclosure, there was a Walmart Supercenter nearby and honestly, walking around one of these monstrous stores is SERIOUSLY fun, if not dangerous for your waistline (Americans have no fear when it comes to food).
It’s not an elective without travelling!
Portland, the state’s informal capital, was a short bus ride away from Lewiston and is famous around the US for its lobster – I can confirm, it was delicious. Apart from indulging in seafood, I also took a ride with the Portland Schooner Company on their Wendameen sail boat on a relaxing evening with perfect windy sailing conditions. Admittedly, my choice of shorts and a polo shirt was unique… Most had at least a light jacket if not a full-on windbreaker, #RookieError.
My trip ended with a short time in Boston, an inspirational city. In an hour, I walked past Harvard University, MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital, institutions where engineers, scientists and doctors have been making paradigm shifting discoveries time and time again for decades. Of course, there is also Fenway park and the historic freedom trail which were a pleasure to walk by in person. In the evening, we even checked out “Little Italy”, a bustling collection of bars, restaurants and pastry shops selling profiteroles the size of an infant’s head. In all, Boston was a beautiful city with a pleasant balance between liveliness and space. I’ve certainly earmarked this city for a future career related sabbatical.