by Work the World

Travelling to distant shores to spend a month working in the developing world, visiting new places and making friends does sound like a fantastic experience, but let’s face it... the credit crunch is still chomping at your heels, your bank balance is below zero and your parents have enough financial troubles at the moment. Funding an elective overseas is not just difficult, it’s completely impossible. There’s just no point even opening the Work the World brochure....

Of course there is!

The BMJ published a great article this week about funding your elective, focusing on the important factor of budgeting – “Building a budget for an elective is feasible but requires knowledge, planning, and organisation, along with determination and nerve”. It reflects what we regularly tell our students – overseas electives are available to everyone.

Where do I start?

You need to sit down and work out exactly where you want to go, how much it will cost and most importantly, what possible avenues of funding there might be.

When should I start?

With elective dates in place up to two years in advance, in an ideal world you would start planning your elective 12 months before you wanted to go. This gives you lots of time to raise money, identify and apply for funding – this can be a slow process.

How do I find out about external funding?

Every year we compile a list of bursaries and prizes that are available to students, and there are also grants that can be applied for. There are hundreds of groups out there that are willing to fund student electives, so ask us for our list, talk to your supervisors at University, check out forums and sign up to sites like Money for med students that send frequent updates on new bursaries. You may need to tinker with your elective a bit to make it fit to the award criteria, but it’s worth it!

What will I need to do to get a bursary or grant?

Each bursary or grant has different criteria. For some you just need to apply with details of your elective, others may require extensive work to support an application, project work whilst away or follow up reports on your return. In almost every case the funding body will want to know the reason behind your elective, how your work supports them and what you hope your contribution will be.

What kind of projects should I look out for?

In most cases you will be asked to do either a data collection project or a reflective project? As the former may involve lab or clinical research, a developing country placement may not be suitable. A reflective project is much more suited to developing country electives as it allows the student to talk about what they have learned and how the experience has influenced their personal and professional development.

How do I make my application stand out?

Try and be as clear as possible about why you wish to travel to a developing country, what you hope to gain from the experience and when you hope to travel. BMJ recommends writing a “Project Outline. This should have a title that is relevant to the project and should provide a brief, relevant background summary of the topic area. Background reading will be required, and include important points as references”. As many institutions want a report on your return, this will be invaluable to you.

What size grant should i apply for?

Although in some cases grants and bursaries are fixed, in others you will need to apply for what you need. In both cases it will benefit you to work on a budget so that you have a good idea of what your time overseas will cost. This will largely depend on whether you have decided to book your elective with a company like Work the World, or want to go it alone. To help you make this decision, read my article comparing both routes.

How do I work out a budget?

List all your fixed costs – we provide you with a cost for your elective that includes accommodation, food, airport pick up and placement organisation. We don’t include flights, visas and insurance because costs change and you can get a better deal shopping around at different times of the year, but we can advise on where to go and how much it is likely to cost. You also need to think about money for socialising or travelling at weekends, but again we can give you a good idea of local costs. Try to think of everything you might need – even down to the few cents it costs to travel to placement (we tell you if there is a cost) as if you don’t ask for it at the start, you can’t go back later.

Why do I need to send a CV to apply for a bursary?

It may seem irrelevant, but a CV provides background information to accompany your application – it helps funding bodies decide if you are the right person for their grant or bursary. You are going to need a CV as soon as you leave university, so it’s wise to get started on yours anyway. BMJ recommend including a transcript of your medical school grades.

My university want to talk about my plans?

Whether you are planning to work at home or overseas, you will undoubtedly have to submit a plan of your elective and talk about it with supervisors, particularly if you hope to get a grant through your school. Every university that we work with has different requirements for students when it comes to their electives, so we do our best to support you all by providing as much information as possible about your placement, host supervisor and hospital. We can also give you supporting letters to validate your placement – something that may be useful if you want to apply for a grant as well.

Are elective awards different to bursaries?

Not massively. The definition of bursaries and grants is a sum of money given to an individual to pay for their study. Traditionally bursaries were awarded to those financially in need, whereas grants were for merit as well as need. An award is a prize, which in this case is usually money for the individual to pay for their study!

Which ones do I have the best chance of winning?

The more niche your area, the less competition you will have. Take time to present your application well with a professional cover and either bind or present in a folder, then send it in with plenty of time to spare. It’s also worth checking the organisation have received your application, and when you can expect a response. Then you just have to wait and see....

How many can I apply for?

As many as you are suitable for.

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