There and back again - An elective adventure. TEN Award ~ Liddy Ellis - Highly commended

by Ruth Price on 23 Sep 2016

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit

Just like Bilbo Baggins’ adventure in the Hobbit, a medical student’s elective presents an incredible opportunity to experience and achieve things they never thought possible. By leaving the comfort of a Hobbit-Hole in the Shire (aka medical school) and embarking upon their journey, they create memories and tales to amaze and inspire future generations on their return. However planning such a conquest today does not come without its various predicaments, which need to be overcome in order to succeed.

One of the first challenges that arises is deciding whether to travel far past the Misty Mountains, venture deep into the forest or take a shorter trip to a nearby Hobbit-land. Various circumstances may dictate this, and although all offer many feats to overcome it is likely they will differ.

Therefore choosing what will be one’s treasure at the mountain is imperative, as this will impact on potential destinations. One will not usually find trolls in the lakes or goblins in the forest, however deciding what to do can be rather confusing if unsure. Certain treasures nowadays also seem attractive to Elves, Goblins and the Lake-men, resulting in what seems like a Battle of Five Armies (or thirty as with some placements). There is now an advantage in setting off early and adequately arming your CV with tales of previous experiences in order to gain the best chance. Therefore deciding your quest and what you want to gain from it while also applying early presents a challenge in itself.

Another consideration now is whether to go it alone or journey in a group with your Dwarvish comrades. Bilbo did manage at times to make it through by himself and learned a lot from doing so, but nowadays extra factors such as certain activities and walking at night need to be contemplated, potentially more so as someone who is from the land of the United Kingdom. Solving one of Gollum’s riddles may be the least of their worries. Conversely in a group the ideas of Balin, Dwalin, Kili and Fili may not be identical and they may not be quite as organised at planning ahead, so compromise will be necessary.

Finding a contact to discuss the terms and conditions can also be hard, as unfortunately not many Hobbits have a Gandalf that simply turns up on their doorstep. In more rural lands Wizards are much more difficult to get hold of when they are not quite so connected, therefore finding a way to gain information and eventually get written confirmation in advance must be taken into account when planning.

Yet no quest becomes reality without adequate funds, and there are obstacles associated with this as well. Travelling from an isolated island can be expensive. Those who need extra provisions, means of travel and shelter can gain this from the likes of Elves, Shape Shifters and even one’s own Shire, usually in exchange for short stories and research. It can be troublesome to know where to search, which is why organisations have drawn up maps to help people navigate around. The costs of entering these lands is another bump to be considered now – otherwise Gandalf’s words ‘You shall not pass’ are rather applicable here and something not to be forgotten.

With funding set it is paramount to research a new land before entering as the place, culture and currency may be very different to home. Bilbo would have been ignorant to have treated Elves, Dwarves, Shape Shifters and Eagles all the same in their lands, as even if unintentional it is disrespectful. Furthermore being from a Hobbit Hole full of home comforts may present a challenge if these are not there, even more so if unaccounted for, and attempting to find them involves the added barrier of speaking a foreign tongue when so used to everyone speaking their own.

Additional steps to look after oneself are also paramount, as other regions may be host to hazards a Hobbit does not usually encounter. It can be a challenge to know what and how to acquire remedies both before and during, what equipment to take (swords and shields are not always provided) and what to leave behind. Previous adventurers and guides can advise with this. Moreover importantly a Hobbit enlisted as a Burglar should not be expected to slay the Dragon he is stealing from, for that is the responsibility of a slayer. Other lands may have alternative views to home of what is expected of someone and may present additional opportunities. Knowing one’s own limitations in this situation, who to contact and how must be planned for, while obtaining insurance and adequate protection, as Gold rings are hard to come by.

Finally, a flaw in the planning of an adventure is that ultimately it is exactly that – a plan. Even ones as great as those conjured by the best of wizards can go awry sometimes when they involve expeditions into the wild or fire breathing dragons, and it is wise to be aware of this. In a world where more daring adventures are now available, one of the largest challenges is therefore thinking about a Plan B that can be instigated from far away without numerous preparations beforehand. But Bilbo showed that even on the side of a mountain, it can be done.

Unfortunately now this short story must come to a close. Some of the challenges that today must be tackled when planning an elective from the United Kingdom have been highlighted. These may not have been exactly the same problems previous generations were required to endure, and there are certainly many more hurdles there has not been time to detail. But it wouldn’t have been a good story if Bilbo had just walked in and taken the Arkenstone, would it?


British Medical Association. 2009.Ethics and medical electives in resource-poor countries - A tool kit. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 June 2016].

Medical Defence Union. 2014.MDU guide to elective planning. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 23 June 2016].

Tolkien, JRR. 1937. The Hobbit. 3rd edition. London: Unwin Books. p1-279.

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