The first couple of years in medical school passed by seemingly quickly, with a packed schedule consisting of lectures, exams, laboratory work, and assignments. Then comes the time for clinical rotations, where med students study across different departments in a hospital under the supervision of experienced doctors to gain practical experience in different branches of medicine.

Electives in clinical rotations can help you decide your specialization for residency training, or discover a liking for a specialization you didn’t expect to be drawn to before. They enable you to explore several career options, strengthen your network, and gain new clinical skills. But choosing electives can be confusing for many. You might have found yourself asking “how do I choose a medical elective?”. Here are some helpful tips to make choosing an elective easier during your clinical years in medical school.

What Are Clinical Electives In Medical School?

Electives are a part of the medical degree, usually in the final year, during which you work under various branches of medicine to gain practical skills. It involves more than just shadowing experienced doctors; you will be doing actual work that doctors do, but under supervision, giving you the practical experience you need to narrow down your specialization. They offer an opportunity to get to know your attendings, such as resident doctors, nurses, and other staff.

You can choose electives from medical specialties such as anatomy, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, geriatrics, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology and more. Typically, medical schools offer electives for every field of medicine you can pursue a career in. If your school doesn’t have an elective you want, you can take it at other locations, which also allows you to expand your network and is useful when you need recommendation letters.

Things To Keep In Mind When Choosing A Clinical Elective

When choosing an elective, consider what your interests are and what you’d like to specialize in later in your career. It is also a good idea to select another elective that is different from the one you want but will still help you grow in the specialization of your first preference. For example, if obstetrics and gynecology are your first preference, then it would be worth choosing an elective in urology as well, as it will allow you to later specialize in urogynecology and treat cases that are both gynecological and urological. Similarly, many specialties benefit from having experience in a variety of medical disciplines.

Another option to consider is research-based electives. This opens up opportunities in the research field if you decide to pursue a career in clinical research. Research electives also offer unique learning experiences in ways that a clinical setting cannot, as research involves studying patients and not providing patient care.

While choosing a specialty, as much as you may be fascinated by a particular subject, you should keep in mind what your day-to-day routine will be like and how much patient interaction is involved in that specialization. You will want to avoid feeling burnt out at the end of a rotation.

An important factor in choosing an elective is the skills each elective will give you. For example, if you choose general surgery, it will give you surgical training in a variety of disciplines, which will be useful if you later choose to be a surgeon in a particular field.

If you have the time, you should consider applying for electives in other schools, even abroad if possible. This will expose you to different cultures and perspectives, enhancing your overall learning curve. Not only is traveling and living in a different city fun, but it will also help you find a job in that city should you decide to move there.

Remember to keep an open mind. You may have started medical school being absolutely sure of a particular field, but you may catch yourself having a change of heart towards the end of the degree. Changing your mind is totally normal, which is why it’s important to consider other specialties you may want to pursue later.