Organising work experience or volunteering prior to a medical school application can be a daunting prospect. What to do, where to do it and how to get it are all important things to consider. However, we think the most important part of these experiences is not necessarily what you do, it’s what you get out of it.
How has that experience changed you or your opinions on healthcare? If you can competently and succinctly explain this in your personal statement your application will be much stronger. But not only from the perspective of getting into medical school, a reflective attitude is becoming increasingly important as a doctor and is a vital skill to develop.
One way to help with this is not to approach work experience or volunteering as a tick box exercise or just another loophole to jump through to complete your application. You should use these opportunities to get the best grasp of the profession you can, to develop important skills and to ultimately decide if medicine really is for you. Ideally you should look to volunteer over a long period of time on a regular basis and gain work experience in addition to this. There can be long waiting lists so we encourage you to start this early on!
Keeping a reflective log of your experiences may help you when it comes to writing your personal statement as well as help you get more from those experiences along the way. It will also serve as a record of any experiences (so you don’t forget when it comes to writing your statement later on!)
A lot of applicants worry that they don’t know any doctors and so how are they going to get any relevant experience. But in the NHS a lot of care given to patients is not doctor led and indeed a doctor is not the only person involved in the care of patients. Shadowing any member of the multidisciplinary team (MDT) will give you a valuable understanding of a career in healthcare, be it shadowing nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists or occupational therapists. There are over 350 roles in the NHS and shadowing any team member would enable you to learn about healthcare and the varied roles that contribute to patient care.
Remember, experiences gained do not have to be clinical. You can get a lot out of volunteering placements or jobs in other settings. Volunteering in schools or in social care will allow you to develop communication and time management skills and understand the broader aspects of healthcare. Continuing in such a placement for a long period of time also shows you are committed to your application and the profession.
For many applicants it is also much easier to obtain a volunteering placement and the experiences gained from such placements over a longer period of time compared to a short work experience placement can be more useful.
Here is a short list of ideas that you could gain experience from:
- GP surgeries
- befriending schemes
- hospital wards
- after school clubs
- care homes
- community organisations
In summary, it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done if you can show you’ve learnt from it. Be creative in your approach and don’t think everything has to be clinical. Hopefully you can do some good along the way. Good luck!
Do you need help organising work experience in your area? Have a browse of NHS Work Experience Placements here