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Catherine Coburn on senior electives in Australia;

Pursuing Your Own Interests

Although most of what you study in medical school is prescribed by the GMC, there will also be the opportunity for you to explore topics of particular interest at various points throughout the course.

In fact the GMC has decided that 10% of the whole medical curriculum should be ‘student choice’. In Glasgow three ‘Student Selected Components’ (SSCs) and 2 electives provide this opportunity.


At the University of Glasgow SSCs take the form of the 5 week-long blocks selected by students from a wide range of options available and are undertaken in years 2, 3 and 4 of the course. SSCs are delivered across a variety of teaching formats and could involve a lab-based research project or students can study core curriculum-related topics in more depth, as well as topics outside medicine, including humanities and languages.

Although programmes vary between Medical Schools, the major aims and objectives remain broadly similar and in 2003, the GMC provided the following guidance as to what particular skills students should have the opportunity to develop.

  • Learn about and begin to develop and use research skills.
  • Have greater control over their own learning and develop their self-directed learning skills.
  • Study, in depth, topics of particular interest outside the core curriculum.
  • Develop greater confidence in their own skills and abilities.
  • Present the results of their work verbally, visually or in writing.
  • Consider potential career paths.

There is plenty of variety available - some of the options available to 2nd year students at Glasgow last year were:

  • An Intensive Five Week Exercise Programme
  • Cancer in the 21st Century, The Genomic Revolution
  • Cardiovascular Pharmacology & Therapeutics
  • Clinical Research: Advancing healthcare for the future
  • Creation of Anatomy E-Tutorials
  • Global and Travel Health
  • Introduction to Clinical Endocrinology
  • Introduction to Pain Management
  • Medical SSC Stage 1: Spanish
  • Medical SSC Stage 2: French

In 3rd and 4th year, SSCs tend to have a more clinical focus and around 1/3 of students self-propose an SSC rather than pick from the extensive menu. In the past, self-proposed topics have included:

  • Anaesthetics and Perioperative Medicine
  • Placement with Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance
  • Sexual and reproductive healthcare in the community
  • The Healthcare Needs of the Homeless Patient and many, many more!


An elective is a period of study during which a student gets to pick the topic of study and the environment in which to undertake this study.​

​The course in Glasgow is fairly unique in that we allow students to undertake two periods of elective study, one after year 3 (junior elective), and another after ar 4 of the course (senior elective). These are both four week-long periods, during which students get to decide what they want to learn or explore, and where in the world they want to do this.​

​In general, more Junior Electives are carried out locally, or perhaps near student’s parental home address, with many Senior Electives taking place abroad. We have students travelling across the world, visiting places from Shetland to New Zealand, Govan to California, Ayr to Myanmar and a plethora of places in between.​


​Our students often report that their elective is the first time they feel fully integrated into the healthcare team.

What are the benefits of electives?​

It is a period of in-depth study in an area of medicine students would like to learn more about and it provides the chance to experience healthcare in a different setting/environment.

How the medical school will help?​

​Students will be able to see what others have done and once they narrow down the options, university will provide help/hints/tips on how to organise their own elective​ and how to make this experience as fulfilling and rewarding as possible.

Our university will also let the students know what funding they can apply for and give information on some of the institutions we operate the exchange programmes with​;


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Study Medicine: Applying for Medical School and Becoming a Medical Student

The University of Glasgow