This article includes an argument for the importance of academic electives in undergraduate medical education, along with a description of an academic elective that I took during the summer of 2012. The elective was a one-week course in evolutionary medicine, which is a growing field that is guiding exciting new medical advances. The key theme of the elective was the application of evolutionary theory to research and clinical practice in the fields of infectious disease and oncology. The elective took place in the beautiful setting of Mount Desert Island, in Maine, with a small group of learners of various ages and academic backgrounds. Leaders in the field were present to discuss the bright future of this young discipline. Through this elective I was able to develop new perspectives on my approach to medicine, which I will carry throughout my career. Academic electives of all types are an effective way for medical students to widen their knowledge base, which helps in both understanding disease and in patient communication.
KEYWORDS: evolutionary medicine, evolution, academic elective, paradigm shift, medical research, cancer, infectious disease, public health