Author: Holly M.
Fourth Year Medical Student
Why is work experience important?
Work experience is a really important part of your medical school application. You will need to be able to talk about in both your personal statement and in subsequent medical school interviews. By undertaking work experience, you’re showing to medical schools a level of commitment that is necessary for a successful medical school application.
Work experience is also really important as it gives you real insight into your potential future career, the good and the bad. This could well be the first time you truly get to experience a working health care environment and it’s a great opportunity to make yourself reflect and decide if this career path is something you really want to pursue.
How do I apply for work experience?
There are lots of constraints on being able to apply for work experience – all exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. You have to be 16 years of age to be able to do work experience in a clinical environment and this is the case for most volunteering opportunities too. If you are a summer birthday like me, it is definitely worth lining things up (such as applications, interviews etc.) in advance for when you turn 16 so that you are as least disadvantaged as possible. Make sure you have a good CV and letter prepared, which explain who you are, any qualifications you have gained, any relevant volunteering experience and why you want to volunteer or undertake experience at this establishment.
It’s a good idea to apply early for work experience as early as you can as clearly this increases the chance of you being able to secure something, or make other arrangements if things go wrong last minute. My advice would be to contact as many people as you can, don’t just think of contacting doctors based in hospitals. Community health care work experience is just as valuable as hospital based, and your supervisor might actually have more time to help teach you. Contact all GPs, walk in centres and GUM centres in your local area. It can be good to have an idea of where you would want to get some experience, but work experience is so hard to arrange I would try hard to stay open minded, apply to many places as possible, and take advantage of every opportunity you can.
You might need to send a few reminder emails as doctors and co-ordinators are very busy people! If you’re finding it hard to get a response, it can be worth trying to meet them face-to-face or contacting them via telephone as this can make it easier to co-ordinate and you’ll be able to arrange the work experience more quickly.
I’m really struggling to find work experience in a GP / hospital, what should I do?
Try not to give up hope straight away – this process takes time and a lot of perseverance. Check if there is a contact based at your school that would be able to help you. This could be a careers advisor or maybe a classmates’ parent. It’s also definitely worth contacting your local medical school as they might be able to help, often they have specific contacts or schemes to help widen participation and often medical students run societies which help sixth form students with their applications for medical school.
You can look more generally online as well for schemes run in your area by your local NHS or for medical summer schools aimed at sixth form students that include placements.
If after you’ve exhausted all these options, you’re still struggling, there are still things you can do to make sure your application is as strong as possible. Volunteering in a medical setting (normally for a minimum of at least 6 months) is required by most medical schools for your application. If you are able to do more than 1 type of volunteering then you can use of one of these for a more “work experience” style reflection in your personal statement and at interview. For example, I did volunteering on a hospital ward every week as well as in a play centre for disabled children, this meant that had I not been able to secure any work experience, I could have used my volunteering on the hospital ward as more of a work experience reflection. To volunteer at your local hospital, I would recommend checking your hospital foundation trust website to look for volunteering opportunities.
Other options to consider are to try getting work as a healthcare assistant (HCA) in a hospital, as this will give you good insight into the hospital environment as also the importance of the multi disciplinary team. Work experience in an optician, dentist or hospice is also good for your medical school application, as it still will give you experience in a health care environment and the opportunity to interact with patients.
What should I do now that I’ve done my work experience?
The most important thing about your work experience isn’t quantity but how well you are able to reflect on it. I would recommend keeping a journal where can write down thoughts about events and interactions as they happen. Some people prefer to do this is a blog, but however you choose to do it, make sure to not include patient names or any information that should be kept confidential.
Don’t just write about what happened, make sure you’re reflecting all the time on things that inspired you, the impact of interactions and procedures on the patients and their quality of life and anything you found interesting. For example, I wrote about how I saw a sling procedure surgery that helped a woman suffering with urinary incontinence and how it was amazing such a relatively simple procedure would so greatly improve this patient’s quality of life. Keep your reflections patient centred but also make sure to reflect on the reality of the profession, the importance of all members, and team working.
It’s really worth reflecting on your work experience as it happens, as it makes writing your personal statement much easier and it means you will have something to look through and reflect on before your medical school interviews.
Guidance regarding current situation with COVID-19 and work experience?
This is a really uncertain time for all students who want to get work experience for their medical school application, so don’t worry, you won’t be the only one struggling! The Royal College of General Practitioners have launched ‘Observe GP’ an online platform where you can observe GPs, which can count as your work experience on your personal statement.
The guidance from the Medical Schools Council also advises keeping a reflective diary of what is happening in the news, making use of online resources that provide an insight into the health sector and volunteering if you are able to.
Here at Medical Projects, you can book onto our Virtual Work Experience, GP Live and Clinical Skills courses to gain work experience. You can also watch our past webinars to gain more insight into work experience during Covid-19.
Whichever option you choose, we hope your work experience is insightful, useful and takes you a step closer to attending your desired medical school. Good luck!