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Student electives overseas

This guide is for RCN student members planning an elective placement overseas including advice on indemnity, finances, visas and travel insurance.

Considering an overseas elective?

Undertaking an elective placement overseas can offer you a fantastic opportunity to connect with peers from all over the word, broaden your academic knowledge and immerse yourself in another culture. It would also give you the opportunity to view UK healthcare systems from a new perspective.

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Where to start

It's important to start planning your elective placement several months in advance.

Ask your university what opportunities for overseas elective placements they might offer and what criteria you would need to meet. They may have existing links with overseas healthcare institutions, an established overseas electives system or dedicated staff who can help you.  Through your university you may be able to connect with, and learn from, students who have already undertaken an overseas placement.

There are several companies which can tailor elective placements to meet individual needs; it might be worth exploring their websites.

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Consider the differences

Learning about the culture, religious beliefs and laws of the country you are travelling to will prepare you for the differences between the host country and your own, and minimise your risk of running into difficulty during your stay. You can start to do this by searching for your chosen country on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

If you want to undertake an elective in a non-English speaking country, you should have some knowledge of the language of the host country. Even if the other healthcare workers are able to speak English with you, patients and their carers may not. This lack of communication could reduce the value of your elective experience and therefore affect your learning outcomes. It may also put your personal safety at risk.

You may already speak another language or have studied a second language at school. If you decide to go to a country where that language is spoken, use the months of preparation prior to your placement to study the language as much as possible.

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Make initial contact

If you plan to organise your own placement, it's a good idea to contact potential hosts several months before you hope to start the elective.

Try to correspond with a named contact rather than sending a letter/email 'To whom it may concern'. It is worth telephoning your chosen organisation to find out the name of the best contact person.

Your letter/email should include the information given below.

  • Dates of the proposed elective.
  • What you hope to do during the elective.
  • How the elective fits in with your course.
  • How you have heard of the hospital/nursing association/organisation.
  • Explain that you do not expect payment or to put the host to any expense. It may be confusing if you state that you want to 'work' as your host may think that you are applying for paid employment.
  • Attach brief information about yourself, such as a curriculum vitae (CV) and a copy of a letter of support from your college of nursing/university.
  • Up to date contact details so that the host can respond easily. It may take some time to receive replies. If you have not received a reply after five or six weeks, write/email again, enclosing a copy of your original request. Keep copies of all correspondence.
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Professional indemnity

The RCN indemnity scheme will cover student members wishing to undertake elective placements abroad, subject to the conditions and exclusions of the scheme, and dependent on the type of activity you undertake.

Please note that the scheme’s territorial cover does not extend to any claim made in either the United States of America (USA) or Canada, irrespective of where the alleged negligence occurred.

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Costs and expenses

Costs involved in undertaking an overseas elective include:

  • return travel to the destination country
  • charges for visas, vaccinations and medicals if required
  • travel and health insurance
  • living expenses while there, including food, accommodation, daily expenses, emergency funds
  • telephone, internet and postal charges for communication involved in setting up the elective
  • other items you may wish to buy specifically for the elective.

Once you have worked out a rough budget, you may need to seek financial assistance. Any person or institution that you approach for funding will want to see that you have thought carefully about why you want that particular experience, that you have calculated the costs involved and that you intend to finance as much of the cost as possible.

Your university/college may be able to provide you with information about potential local assistance, ranging from funds held by the university itself, local NHS Trusts and local charitable organisations.

We support a number of scholarships, bursaries and awards to provide professional development opportunities for nursing professionals.

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Passports and visas

It's important to make sure that your passport will be current for the length of your trip abroad. Some countries require your passport to be valid six months after departure.

You may need to obtain a visa to travel to the country of your choice. Embassies usually charge a fee for providing visas and some can take weeks to process visa applications. You may need to telephone, write and visit to follow this up. UK citizens do not need visas to visit other EU countries.

If you state in your visa application that you want to 'work' in a healthcare setting for your elective, embassy staff and immigration officials will assume that you are looking for paid employment within the country. It is much more accurate to state that you want to spend time in a healthcare setting within the host country as part of your course of education in the UK. Misunderstandings can have serious consequences - in many countries immigration officials have the right to refuse you entry to the country if they believe that you plan to work illegally. They can also fine the airline that brought you there.

Go to the government website of the country you are interested in visiting or alternatively visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for travel advice and information.

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Your health care

The country you hope to visit may have very different healthcare facilities and health risks compared to the UK so you need to prepare yourself in advance. The following information will be useful:

  • If you are staying within the European Economic Area (EEA) you will need to obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This will allow you to get state healthcare abroad for a reduced cost or sometimes for free. You can apply for free at Gov.uk.
  • The Medical Advisory Service for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) provides written health briefs for tourists and travellers. Please go to www.masta-travel-health.com for more information.
  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office can also give you travel advice.
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Travel insurance

We strongly recommend that you buy travel insurance. Always shop around for the best price. You can also access information on the latest deals available to you as an RCN member from RCN Xtra.

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You are representing UK nursing

Hosts who welcome you to their countries and workplaces are usually doing this to help you; it's not normally part of their job description. You can repay this kindness by being friendly, flexible and punctual, and respect the culture of the country and the customs of the host. You are an ambassador for UK nursing and they will remember what you have said and done for a long time.

Consider taking small gifts to give to the people who help you during your placement. This could include postcards or brochures about the area of the UK where you are a student, literature about your university and lightweight gifts such as key rings, bookmarks, tea towels, paper, writing pens and pencils.

Appropriate textbooks or learning aids would be a special and lasting gift as a memory of your visit.

When writing to thank your hosts after your visit, include a copy of your report and photographs you may have taken during your visit.

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Further information

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office - for up to date foreign travel advice

www.euro.who.int/en/countries - World Health Organisation country profiles

www.icn.ch/Submit-a-Web-Link/National-Nursing-Associations- International Council of Nurses list of National Nursing Associations

The RCN advice guide 'working overseas' may also provide additional information

Charities which produce excellent materials are listed below:

Durbin Plc - www.durbinglobal.com

Teaching Aids at Low Cost (TALC) - www.talcuk.org

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Call the RCN on: 03457726100


Page last updated - 25/01/2018