General information on student electives

Purpose of our electives

Our electives are intended to provide an educational, instructive, interesting ,enjoyable, safe, supported and structured opportunity for our visitors to experience health and health care in KwaZulu-Natal, and to develop a deeper understanding of those aspects they encounter in the elective.

The elective is expressly not intended to provide structured undergraduate-level training and instruction in the major medical domains. This is the responsibility of your own medical school. Our electives are therefore not suitable for students who have previously performed badly in a particular domain, and wish to practise catch-up. Nor are they intended to provide structured clinical training to student studying at foreign universities which do not offer such training themselves.

Types of electives

The School relaunched its elective programme in 2023, after several years of consolidation. As such we are in the process of building and strengthening our elective offerings, and you can expect to see these change substantially in coming months.

We intend to offer three types of elective:

  1. Traditional attachment to a discipline, where elective students work with our medical staff in our health facilities, and also work alongside our own undergraduate students during term-time. These are intended for those for whom the main interest is exposure to common health problems in an environment different to the one they are used to.
  2. Specialised attachments to disciplines which do not feature prominently in the standard medical undergraduate programmes, e.g. subspecialties of medicine, surgery or psychiatry. These are intended to cater for those who are interested in going beyond the medical school curriculum in a particular area.
  3. Specialised thematic programmes allowing full immersion in a particular thematic area, e.g. research, care of the elderly, cross-cultural psychiatry, rather than just an attachment to a department.

Not all of these are currently available, but will be developed during the course of 2023.

Length of elective

Elective periods are offered for a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of twelve weeks. Each elective will indicate its own requirements with regard to length.

In general visiting students are encouraged to spend the entire period within a single elective opportunity. It is however permissible to register for more than one elective, provided that no single elective falls below the minimum duration set for it.

Please note that visiting students are not permitted to move from department to department in an attempt to obtain “back-door” training where their own university does not offer formal clinical training. Our electives are not structured to provide formal clinical instruction and, were we to allow this, we would be complicit in the production of unsystematically and haphazardly trained doctors.

Formal registration

No visiting student is permitted on University premises or in the health care facilities operated by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health (KZN DOH) unless they have been formally registered a a visiting elective student with UKZN and have a student access card.

Health insurance

Visiting students are entirely responsible for their own health care, both emergency and routine. They do not have access to our Campus health services nor preferential access to services provided by the KZN DOH. It is essential therefore that international students carry adequate health insurance. Local students are expected to carry adequate medical aid cover, or to access DOH services by exercising their right to do so as South African citizens.

There is one exception: students who suffer a needlestick injury in the course of their elective activities are entitled to the same support as our own UKZN students. We have protocols in place for immediate testing, and for the provision of prophylactic medication if indicated. These will be made known to visiting student when they arrive.


Visiting students are required to find, book and pay for their own accommodation. The Electives Office can provide you with a list of recommended establishments, but cannot take responsibility for any subsequent experience with them. Unfortunately we cannot offer University accommodation to visiting students.


Visiting students are responsible for organising and paying for all their own transport needs during the elective. This includes transport to and from their accommodation, from the airport or bus station, and between campuses or health care facilities. (The main difficulty here is insurance, since only UKZN students are covered by the third-party liability insurance carried by our transport providers.) We acknowledge that this may be difficult where visiting students are working alongside UKZN students and are required to travel between medical school and hospitals or clinics. We suggest that you discuss your situation on its merits with our electives office in such a case. We cannot however guarantee you access to transport.

Fee structure

This is under discussion and you will be provided with a quotation at your initial enquiry. We envisage a tiered system for local students, South African students studying abroad, students from SADEC (Southern African Development Community) countries and other international students. Currently local students (i.e. students studying medicine at a South African medical school) are exempt from fees, as part of a reciprocal arrangement between the schools.

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