Articles and Case Studies

A Sporting Elective in New Zealand

11 Dec 2018

new zealand

Why New Zealand? I spent May 2016 working in the Otago Sports Injury Clinic in Dunedin, New Zealand. I chose to travel to New Zealand for a number of reasons:

Photo: Sam with his snowboard during early season at Coronet Peak, after his first day of lessons.

  • I wanted to work in a healthcare setting not too dissimilar from the UK.
  • I knew that it was a popular destination for emigrating doctors and wanted to see what the fuss was about.
  • I fancied somewhere I could ski during June.
  • Most importantly, although I wasn’t absolutely sure what I was looking for, the placement looked perfect.

I found the placement through The Electives Network. About 10 years ago, a medical student found this clinic online and organised his placement. Fortunately for me (and potentially you) this student submitted a review to The Electives Network. Since then the clinic has mainly attracted students through The Electives Network.

The opportunities

As a student undecided on a career pathway, I found it difficult to decide what I wanted to do. But when the clinic responded to me, I instantly realised this was not one to miss. The placement affords three main opportunities.

The bulk of the work takes place in the clinic – all day Saturday and a few hours Sunday (around midday), Tuesday (evening) and Thursday (evening). The clinic is supervised by a doctor and physio, however the vast majority of the work is done by students – these include dentistry, medicine and (mainly) physio students. As such, there’s a friendly atmosphere to the place. Saturdays are a day of two halves. In the morning, sportsmen and sportswomen attend the clinic for support strapping, a skill I learnt from the physio students before their matches. From late morning onwards the injuries come in. I worked five Saturdays and saw a wide range of injuries. Mostly players came in with sprains, but there were also contusions, fractures, Achilles tendon ruptures, Osgood Schlatter’s and Severs disease, panic attacks, etc.

As a medical student I attended many head knocks. I was taught how to take a comprehensive assessment and, later in the placement, I was involved in delivering post-concussion advice. The elective also gave me my first opportunity to suture, and I learnt how to apply a wide range of dressings that I was never taught back home. Perhaps the most exciting part of the placement was the work I did for the Highlanders RFC – one of the Super XIII rugby teams. Unfortunately for me, the Highlander’s team doctor had his own elective student and so I was only able to work with the match doctor (i.e. I wasn’t able to attend training as I had hoped). During the two matches I worked, I was mainly based in the medical room where I assisted with any injuries sustained during play. I also learnt about the brain box and its role in assessing for head knocks.


Photo: Seated with brainbox on the team bench at the Highlanders vs the Chiefs.

The final aspect of my placement was high school rugby. The clinic has ties with Otago Boys High School, and I spent a few days in their physio-run clinic assessing the schoolboys following any injuries.

Weeks 1-4

A key reason in choosing the elective was the amount of free time afforded. I didn’t want to spend four full weeks in a hospital and the time I spent in Dunedin was quiet. Renting a car was a must (and very affordable between two) and we were able to see bits of the South Island whilst on placement – particular mention has to go to Milford Sounds which is a spectacular fiord.

Week 5

After the placement, we travelled up to Christchurch and then crossed into the North Island. Here we skydived, did the 10-hour Tongariro crossing trek (I recommend you take more than 500ml of water), had nights out in Wellington and went to the geothermal springs. We chose to miss Auckland (because one of our group had done their elective there) and much of the coast as we were advised they were mainly summer attractions.

Week 6

We then returned to the South Island and made our way down the west coast. We went sea kayaking on the Abel Tasman, and failed to see the Franz Josef glacier (the weather had set in so we could not take the helicopter tour).

Weeks 7-9

We had decided to end our trip with three weeks of skiing, and so ended up in Wanaka and Queenstown. As I was intercalating at the time, I didn’t need to return for the fifth year. So I spent a total of seven weeks in Queenstown which was ridiculously fun with so much to do. Unfortunately, we had been rather heavy-handed with our money previously and our skiing was expensive, so we missed out on bungee jumping and white-water rafting experiences.

The skiing was, if you are used to the big alps, minimal. The snow wasn’t its best this season which didn’t help either. But there was a good ski park and some (albeit short) off-piste. I would advise only skiing for a few days as it was expensive and not phenomenal – whereas there is so much to do around New Zealand which is phenomenal. A particularly amazing (and free) activity to do in Queenstown is to climb Ben Lomond, a 1750m mountain, although it isn’t for the fainthearted.

A word of advice. If you are going to Queenstown, book your hostel in advance – it was the only place we struggled to find beds.


All in all, the elective was greatly rewarding. The clinical work definitely improved my ability to assess a wide range of MSK injuries and concussions. But I feel the benefits go further than simply giving me a grounding in sports medicine – performing so many histories and examinations has improved my confidence greatly.

Sam Burrows (UK)

The Electives Network (TEN)

TEN is an online resource providing all the assistance you need to plan your dream elective. TEN gives you personalised support and access to the latest information, interactive tools, case studies and much more. As a Member of MDA National, you have free access to TEN. So take advantage of this opportunity to make your elective a truly memorable experience!

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