An overseas elective

ElectiveNathalie Lear explains how her elective experience was beneficial to her, what she learnt, and what she would have done differently.

I spent three weeks last summer in Peru for my elective. I volunteered with a charity called Project Amazonas. For the most part I was in the Amazon rainforest helping to provide dental treatment for those in remote communities. I also trekked to Machu Picchu – no trip to Peru would be complete without visiting this ancient wonder!

Benefits of an overseas elective

  • Travel to a remote area: I’ve always been fascinated with rainforests (even applying to appear on Serious Jungle as a child – unfortunately I was unsuccessful). I was able to visit the Amazon and spend time with the local people
  • Get involved: I was the only dental student on the project at that time so I was able to get plenty of hands-on experience
  • Build up confidence: I learnt a lot in a short period of time and had plenty of oral surgery experience, which helped me become more confident. I also realised when to ask for help. It is important to know your limitations
  • Appreciate what we have in the UK: I expected facilities to be basic but I didn’t realise how basic. It opened my eyes as to how fortunate we are in the UK
  • Travel: I trekked for four days to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. It was exhausting at times but also exhilarating. South America is full of natural beauty and there are many wonders to explore on your elective there.

What I learnt

  • Language skills: my Spanish is at intermediate level, by spending three weeks in Peru I was able to practise more and improve. Learning a language is always a useful skill, embrace the opportunity to do so on your elective
  • Check your visa stamp: when I entered Peru I didn’t check my visa stamp (oops). I didn’t realise until leaving that I had only been stamped for 14 days and had to pay extra upon leaving
  • Check your luggage before you go through customs: I brought back extracted teeth with me to give to uni as they’re useful for students to practise on. I forgot I had them in my hand luggage and got stopped at security – it was awkward to say the least.

What I would have changed

  • Bring supplies: the charity I volunteered with stated that it would have all medical and dental supplies needed for the trip. Unfortunately it didn’t have enough for all the villages we visited. We only had enough toothbrushes to give to the people in two of the nine villages and paracetamol also ran out quite quickly.

If I had known I would have brought oral hygiene supplies with me, it is inexpensive and easy to take with you. I would say if you can bring some goodies with you to give out to the local people, they are so grateful and would benefit greatly.

Also bring some PPE if you are going to be exposed to clinical procedures!

Overall

During my elective I learnt a great deal and it was a unique opportunity to experience dentistry in a completely different environment.

I would highly recommend an overseas elective to all those considering it, and if you do embark on an adventure have fun and stay safe!

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