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External SSC

In addition to Internal Student Selected Components, in Years 3 and 5, all students must undertake a 4 week period of study in an area of their choosing as part of their External SSC. In the 3rd year, this takes place after the June exams, typically over four weeks in July, to be handed in on return to 4th year in September. In the 5th year, this four week block is fitted into one of the 3 main teaching blocks.

The criteria for choosing an external SSC if you choose to stay in Bristol are quite wide. In the past, people have used this period to do an audit, clinical or lab research, clinical attachments, courses, e-Learning tutorials.. the list goes on…

Every year the Med School allows some students to do their SSC outside of the Bristol area. This is a great opportunity to study and travel abroad and experience a different healthcare system to our own. It could also be a good talking point at interviews especially if you have a particular career path in mind.

Being allowed to do your SSC outside of the Bristol area requires a bit more planning; the criteria are much stricter, and all projects must be approved by a committee appointed by the Medical School. Applications are due in early (often months before the deadline for SSCs in Bristol). This deadline is final, so if you’re thinking about applying, you need to start organising it early!

Application Criteria

The criteria for external SSCs undertaken outside of the Bristol area are strictly defined, and unfortunately, applications which do not fulfil these criteria will not be approved. These criteria are as follows:

  • Accredited courses or curricula, which take up more than 75% of the allocated SSC time

  • Defined project work within another accredited University, supported by a member of the University of Bristol

  • Clinical attachment in a university in the ERASMUS scheme

  • Clinical attachment at a medical school participating in the scheme organised by International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations

  • Courses and clinical attachments which are integral to the training of military cadets as undergraduates

In addition:

  • You must not be able to undertake the same project locally

  • You must have a course average of 55% and no unit fails

  • You will need 2 supervisors; one at your location, and one at an Academy or the University.


Some previous international eSSCs have been:

  • Expedition Medicine Training Conference, Chamonix (Year 5)

  • IFMSA Emergency Medicine Course, Indonesia

  • Clinical attachment at Shock Trauma Centre in Baltimore, Maryland

  • Clinical attachment within Emergency Medicine and Trauma Centre, New York

  • Clinical attachment within Orthopaedics Department, New York

  • Attachment at alcohol and drug addiction specialist centre in Rennes, France

Hints & Tips

In 2008, 23 applications were received for Year 3 External SSCs outside of the Bristol area. Of these, 20 were approved or conditionally approved, and only 3 were rejected. For the Year 5 External SSCs, 12 of 16 applications were successful.

Provided you submit a good, well prepared application which meets the criteria, your application will usually be approved. However, all applications are scrutinised by at least 4 people, so read on for advice on how to make your application successful.

Choice of project:

  • The project or placement must be something that you would be unable to undertake in the Severn region (either something not done in Severn Deanery or to a centre of excellence that Bristol can’t match). This is a strict requirement, and explanations as to why it can’t be done in Bristol should be included in your application.

  • The SSC is not an elective, and many applications are rejected for being too similar to an elective in nature. For example, although it would be interesting to study respiratory diseases in another country and culture, this is not deemed appropriate for the external SSC period: your project or placement has to be more specific and you need to be able to justify why you are unable to undertake it here.

  • Projects must be appropriate to your level of training (i.e. you cannot undertake a project or placement in Obs and Gynae if you have not yet covered this as part of your main curriculum). Exceptions to this are made when a student has previous experience (e.g. intercalation/previous degree) in the field.

  • If you are an international student, be wary of applying to do a placement in your home country – this may be interpreted as an excuse to gain extra holiday time!

  • Be clear and explicit about whether your SSC is research or a clinical placement. If research then show evidence for application for ethics approval; if audit then apply for permission from audit department.

Filling out the form:

  • Make sure you are clear about the criteria your category falls under. Choosing the wrong criteria (e.g. saying it is a course when it is a clinical attachment) makes the project look poorly planned and the assessors will be unclear about what the project involves. If you are not sure – ask for clarification.

  • Application forms for External SSCs to be taken outside the Bristol area are independently assessed by at least 4 people –they are scrutinised! Therefore try to ensure that you have addressed all possible issues with regards to every aspect of your proposed project. For example, always mention any possible health and safety concerns, whether you’re going to a developing country or Oxford, and make your proposal as detailed as possible so that you don’t miss out because people felt unclear about what your SSC would entail. Good, well thought out applications make a bigger impact, so include as much information to support your case as you can. Don’t be sloppy when you fill out your application and make sure you have written something under each of the headings.

  • Your application will be strengthened by including any previous work experience (e.g. SSCs, intercalation, prizes) which show commitment to the subject field.


  • Your case will be improved by identifying both a local (Bristol-based) supervisor and a supervisor in your chosen location prior to handing your form in. Be aware that you must have a University of Bristol supervisor – this does not include every consultant at the BRI, so if in doubt – check!

  • Once you have found a supervisor, ask them to read through your application before you submit it as they may identify areas that need more clarity, or issues that you have failed to address.

Other points:

  • If you plan to undertake any form of research then consider whether ethical approval should be sought. If you are doing any kind of research involving patients then this will have to be from the ethics committee of the local trust hospital. Gaining ethical approval takes a minimum of 8 weeks and often considerably longer. This means that approval should ideally be sought during the first term of the third year. If this is not possible then you should have at least already applied or be in the process of applying when you submit your application –and mention this in your application, you will the be given a conditional acceptance based on your obtaining the ethical approval.

A good tip for undertaking clinical placements abroad is to do this through IFMSA exchange or one of the ERASMUS partner Universities.

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