Planning dental electives

Summer is fast approaching and for dental students this marks the end of exam fever and the start of a well-deserved holiday. For many fourth year dental students across the UK, summer is also an opportunity to undertake an elective and often proves to be one of the most memorable experiences of your undergraduate career.

For third years this is the ideal time to start planning your electives for 2008. Before spinning the globe and jetting off to the most exotic destination you can find, it’s important to stop and consider exactly what you’d like to get out of your time away from your home dental school.

Do you want to experience dentistry in a third world setting? Do you want to gain research experience? What branch of dentistry interests you? These are all vital questions to be thinking about whilst planning. It may be helpful to think ahead to what you’d like to do post-qualification – your elective could be an ideal opportunity to investigate career options!

The internet is an invaluable tool in researching your elective placement. The vast majority of dental schools worldwide have easily accessible websites, as do many charities and elective specific organisations which can provide helpful information to get you started.

Don’t be afraid to ask clinicians and tutors at your dental school. They frequently have research contacts (both nationally and internationally) in many areas of the profession who may be able to offer useful advice.

Speaking to senior dental students about their elective experiences (good and bad!) can also provide invaluable information and elective inspiration. Remember, they have already taken their elective and may be able to offer travel advice, recommend contacts/organisations to go with, and give you an idea of what to expect when you get to your chosen elective placement.

Many students choose to undertake small research projects while on elective. If you do select work of this nature aim to keep it simple. It’s worth remembering that you are only there for a limited period, in an unfamiliar environment, which can make things difficult. Although it may sound obvious, make sure you choose a topic that interests you; research projects can take a lot of hard work, time and effort, which will be multiplied if your enthusiasm is lost.

There are many elective prizes and grants available to dental students on a nationwide and dental school specific basis. These can range from photograph competitions to submission of research projects and can provide much needed funds as well as looking great on your CV.

Once you’ve chosen your elective destination the most vital consideration is to your safety. If you are going abroad vaccinations and/or anti-malarial medication may be required. Insurance and visas are also important considerations.

You must also consider the risks of blood-borne infection transmission which may occur. It’s important to find out exactly what you will be doing on your elective. Will you be shadowing or involved in invasive procedures? How much supervision will you have? What equipment is available? What safety procedures are carried out e.g. in the event of a needlestick injury? These questions must be answered satisfactorily.

Finally, it’s important that before you go, you complete all the required assessments and exams at your home dental school in order to have the final go-ahead for your elective placement.

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