Now that you’ve decided that you definitely want to become a doctor you are going to need work experience. Every single person applying to Medical School should be backing up their application with work experience. Not only does it further help you decide that Medicine is the right choice for you as it is the best way to see what being a doctor is all about, it firmly shows your commitment and dedication to your career.
On this page we will be providing information on the types of work experience you can get as well as what you should be aiming to get out of it.
Types of work experience:
These give a unique opportunity to see many different healthcare professionals all working together. During these types of placement you may find yourself spending time in Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) meetings, helping junior doctors on ward rounds and even observing the pharmacy department, to name but a few activities, so it’s a real goldmine of experience and information.
If you know someone working in a hospital, fantastic! Ask them for help to get you through the door. If not, then your school should be offering support; speak with your head of year or head of sixth form and ask what opportunities they know of or can help you with. There are often education departments at your local NHS Trust so get in contact with them and see what they have on offer. It is a daunting process trying to get hospital placements but the experience they offer is invaluable. You can also use the task as a way to demonstrate your perseverance and commitment.
GP (General Practice) Placements:
GPs are the frontline of healthcare and work experience here can provide an excellent insight into a huge area of medicine. As most clinics are usually incredibly busy you will be able to see first-hand the skills needed to gain key information in a timely manner, the processes of escalating any serious conditions to a secondary setting as well as the importance of educating patients as a GP about managing chronic conditions like diabetes.
Due to confidentiality issues, you will be unable to carry out work experience with your local GP. However, it is definitely worth asking them if they know of another GP that can accommodate you. If not then simply getting in contact with other GPs could yield many opportunities; phone up clinics, send e-mails and even knock on doors to see if they can give you a placement. Again, your school may be able to aid you in finding opportunities as well as the educational department in your local NHS Trust.
Nearly all medical school applications will contain a volunteering element as it shows true commitment. Medical Schools love seeing that applicants have volunteered as it usually shows that you have built up relationships with people and personally developed, due to the fact that it generally takes place over a longer time period than other types of work experience. A popular form of medical volunteering is to work in a care home, often helping the staff serve food or simply spending time with the patients, perhaps playing games. These placements are one of the most recommended types of experience, however volunteering placements do not always have to be medically related. Some medical schools place equal importance on both medical and non-medical work experiences. Do your research to see what your chosen medical school prefers and cater your volunteering to appeal to them. All volunteering placement can ultimately be valuable in some way so we suggest that you be creative and wherever you are you can develop some of the key skills needed to be a doctor.
As we previously said, volunteering is incredibly valuable due to the fact that it is often a type of experience that can be long lasting. Many of the most successful applicants have volunteered at care homes every week for 6-18 months. This level of time shows immense commitment and will allow you to develop a large skill set over the period.
You can find voluntary work in a variety of different ways. Simply going to your local care homes and charity shops and asking if they have any vacancies often yields excellent results as they are usually eager for more help. In addition to that, contacting organisations such as Youth Action Network, St Johns Ambulance, Community Service Volunteers (CSV) and Do It can give you more information about volunteering placement opportunities local to you. Non-medical volunteering placements are generally easier to secure than hospital or GP placements, so it is wise to gain these early, working on them as you apply for other placements.
Experiencing international healthcare is not an essential part of getting into Medical School however it can provide an interesting insight into medicine in a global context while also standing you apart from other applications. Unfortunately, it can be a costly process so it is important to determine how much it will enhance your application based on how much other work experience you already have.
If you are able to find international placements, they will provide you with the perfect chance to see many medical cases that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to see at home including tropical diseases such as malaria. Furthermore, showing an awareness of the many socio-economic factors that can have an impact on healthcare could provide an excellent talking point for both your personal statement and interview.
Providers such as Volunteering Journeys and Medical Projects are one of the first ports of call for gaining this type of work experience. It is possible to source your own experience however we recommend that you only do this in places you are familiar with and have friends or family close by as your safety is top priority.
Making the most of your work experience:
Regardless of which type of work experience you are doing it is important that you make your time count. Simply doing the work experience is not going to be enough to secure a place as every other applicant will be doing the exact same thing. What is more important is being able to reflect on and evaluate what you have done and what you have learnt. Where possible note down your experiences as soon as possible, including how you felt at the time and how you feel on reflection. Think about the events you witnessed, the qualities of the people involved and how they helped, or even hindered, a situation. Note these down as discussion points for your personal statement and interviews. If possible, ask the doctors why they did what they did and how they felt about the situation, but always in a polite and professional manner. If a particular medical case catches your eye do some reading up on it and note that down to mention in an interview, it will be a good way to show both initiative as well as a real interest in the subject.
If you are able to get different types of work experience, then spend some time comparing and contrasting them. How did they differ? In what ways were they the same? Which did you prefer and why? Take some time to think on why there were the differences there were, showcasing your ability to evaluate a clinical setting.
While at the work experience make yourself stand out by getting involved as much as possible. This will stand you in good stead with the doctors and workers around you and is more likely to lead to them teaching you more and granting you more responsibility.
When in medically related roles use this time as an opportunity to find out as much as possible about your future career and again to establish that becoming a doctor is right for you. Keep asking questions; the more you learn the more you’ll have to talk about!
Additional things you can do:
Something that is becoming more and more popular is medical applicants keeping blogs. These provide an excellent way for you to reflect on your work experience and discuss what you have learnt about yourself and about being a doctor. The other great thing about keeping a blog is that it shows commitment. If you are able to put out a weekly blog post about what you are doing to get yourself into medical school and keep it going for several months then you show that you are dedicated and organised. It is incredibly easy to set up a free blog online so we would highly recommend that you do that as soon as possible.