Dr Ann Hopkins

For many RCSI medical students, COVID-19 has awoken new sensitivity to the needs of vulnerable communities, awareness of the disproportionate impact of infectious diseases on resource-limited countries, and self-reflection about professional 'calls to service'. For every RCSI student who was concerned that ward closures and the move to telemedicine would negatively impact their education, there were ten more seeking any opportunity to serve during the crisis.

Following in the footsteps of a few intrepid pioneers like Juan, we anticipate enormous interest amongst RCSI students in undertaking clinical electives in developing countries next year. With strong links to Dr Ben LaBrot's team of Floating Doctors in Central America, and our partnership in African hospitals via the COSECSA collaboration there has never been a more opportune time for RCSI students to undertake life-changing electives in clinical settings.

RCSI graduates who rotated with COSECSA fellows in East Africa have experienced the burden of too-late presentations of preventable illnesses, have been challenged to use all their clinical skills and resourcefulness instead of relying on technology and teams, and have been humbled by the realisation that the lives of so many are in the hands of so few. These students universally report that their experiences have made them better doctors – better-skilled, better equipped to make the best use of resources and more empathic with their patients.

In RCSI, we are keen to support final year medicine students wishing to undertake clinical electives in developing countries next summer. We are confident their education equips them to act as competent members of any medical team, and that exposure to resource-limited settings at this formative stage will make them better and more compassionate doctors for their patients.

However, the cost of clinical electives is a huge deterrent for many. Six weeks in Africa or Central America often seems like a great idea until students realise how many modes of transport are necessary to get to a remote region, and that becoming a pin-cushion for travel vaccines can hurt the wallet as much as the upper arm. In addition to our goal of supporting student electives in developing countries, RCSI is keen to build an electives fund to help to alleviate elective tuition fees for students in US hospitals, or simply to help out with flight and other costs for students doing multiple electives of great importance to them.

Many RCSI students have to make tough choices in order to do electives closer to home; such as giving up a summer job that usually funds their term-time living expenses. These electives are no less important to individual students just because they happen to be in local hospitals, or, in the case of our North American students, because North American electives are essential for matching to residency training spots. The trend of charging students’ tuition fees to do electives in US hospitals continues to grow, with those fees reaching as much as $5,500 per month in some institutions. Multiply that by 2-3 electives, then add on travel, accommodation and living expenses, and you can understand why final year electives are stressful for many students.

My sincere thanks for taking the time to read this, and for considering the challenges faced by the next generation of RCSI doctors. By making a gift to the Clinical Electives Fund today, your generosity will have a lifelong impact on individual student doctors and the communities they will serve in the future.

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