Medical School Clinical Electives

May 11, 2015

On the way to surgery in Tanzania Your first two years of medical school often includes classroom lectures and laboratory work. But come years three and four, you are required to complete clinical rotations.

Most schools require you to complete a total of 24 clinical rotations. You will complete 12 rotations your third year of med school and 12 your fourth year. Medical schools vary on which medical specialties they require for rotations. Many schools include pediatrics, surgery, internal medicine, family practice, psychiatry and obstetrics.

Required clinical rotations are mandatory regardless of what specialty you eventually want to pursue. But in addition to required clinical rotations, you also have electives you must complete.

The number of electives offered will vary by school. Some medical schools, which are affiliated with several large medical centers, may offer a large variety of clinical electives.  Smaller med school programs may have fewer resources and not offer as many electives.

Although the clinical electives offered may vary by program, some typical electives include anesthesiology, emergency medicine, neurology and pathology. Some schools may also offer, genetics, dermatology and radiology.

Clinical electives are a great opportunity to prepare a student for residency matching. Electives also allow a student to gain more experience in an area of medicine they think they may want to pursue. Completing electives enhances the medical school experience. Gap Medics students form a pyramid at Gangilonga Rock in Tanzania!

The process of gaining the electives you want may vary by school. In many instances, you apply for the electives you want in the spring of your third year of medical school. Because there may be limited spots for some electives, students may be chosen through a lottery system. 

Which electives you chose should be considered carefully. Electives may be a stepping stone to your residency. During clinical electives, you are often given more responsibility than you were during mandatory rotations. Many times electives are in your fourth year of school, which means more is expected from you.

There are often fewer students in an elective rotation, so you may get more one on one attention from your resident, which can be helpful. Because you may get to know your residents better during your electives, it can be helpful when it comes time to ask for letters of recommendation for a residency. 

By the time you apply for clinical electives, you may have decided which medical specialty to pursue. If that is the case, deciding on clinical electives may be easy. In addition to selecting the elective in your area of interest, consider other electives that complement your specialty. For instance, if you want to be a pediatrician, an elective in emergency medicine may be helpful.

Helping out at the local orphanage, TanzaniaIf you have not completely decided on a certain specialty, clinical electives are a great opportunity to get a better idea of a certain branch of medicine. Going into each elective with an open mind, can help you figure out what you are best suited for. Keep in mind, sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone to find the medical specialty, which is right for you.