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How to Secure your Workplace Experience?

By Roxanne Sutthakorn

· Application Strategy

So, you’re currently thinking about applying to Medicine or you have an interest in what life as a doctor is like. One of the best ways to find out about medicine is through work experience. Currently all universities in the UK require applicants to have work experience within a ‘caring environment’. This may be healthcare shadowing, voluntary or paid work. Work experience can give you a feel of what life as a doctor is like and can enable you to have an insight into the great, the not-so-great and the icky aspects of medicine. Universities are looking for dedication to study medicine, they are not looking at applicants who are just academically excellent but applicants who can offer the whole package. For more information on the types of work experience that you can get involved in, check out the latest blog, ‘What type of work experience should I do’ by Gerens Cunrow.

So once you’ve decided on what work experience that you’re interested in, how do you find a work experience placement? We appreciate that it’s really hard to find work experience. There are age-restrictions, application forms and a lot of competition from all the other bright sparks, who like you, are interested in this amazing career. So, here, you’ll find some of our top tips based on our 11 years of medical school admissions advice. As always, if you feel that you need any additional help, we’re more than happy to offer guidance (it’s in our name – The Medical School Application GUIDE), send us an email. We’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

1. Start as Early as Possible

It is never too early to start work experience. All competitive applicants will have some sort of work experience under their belt, therefore, it will look more impressive if you can show commitment to medicine over a long period of time. Also, the competition between medical applicants is extremely high and you need to get in there early to secure your work experience placement. Think tactically, most applicants will start applying for work experience during their summer holidays between Year 12 and 13, therefore you should get in there early and start applying at Christmas or Easter.

when-to-start-medical-school-work-experience

If you are keen to learn lots about Medicine before you step into Medical school, then it would be interesting to get a variety of healthcare shadowing experience. From big hospitals to small walk-in clinics, doctors work in a huge number of places, starting early will enable you to do see doctors in action in these places. As well as, it gives you plenty of experiences to talk about in your personal statement and interviews.

2. Contact Friends & Family

Use your contacts! The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the UK, employing around 1.5 million people. It is highly likely that someone within your immediate circle will work within the NHS or will have friends or family who do so. Do not be afraid to ask if you can shadow them!  This can be in any sector of healthcare such as physiotherapy, pharmacy, nursing etc. For example, in the year coming up to my UCAS application, I shadowed my friend’s mum who was a consultant gynecologist and on another occasion, I shadowed another friend’s auntie who was a paediatric nurse. Shadowing in different parts of the NHS will also allow you to understand the workings of the multidisciplinary team and allow you to have a variety of different experiences.

3. Contact Hospitals

If you are unable to find any work experience through a friend or family member, my next point of call would be local hospitals. A way in which I found healthcare shadowing opportunities was by going onto my local hospital’s website and finding a list of all the consultants working there and their email addresses. I politely emailed them explaining that I was applying to medicine and would like to gain medical work experience in their specialty. I was pleasantly surprised at how many doctors responded to me. However, do not be alarmed if you haven’t heard back from the doctors the next day. Doctors are generally very busy and it may take them some time to reply. Persistence is key, keep trying until you get a response!

who-to-contact-for-work-experience-to-get-into-med-school

Other ways of securing work experience in hospitals are through work experience programmes and volunteering at a hospital. An example of a hospital that runs a work experience programme is Ealing hospital, London. This link to their website shows that they offer healthcare shadowing opportunities to Year 10 to 13 students during certain weeks of the year. Furthermore, volunteering opportunities are advertised on the NHS Jobs website or they may be listed on the chosen hospital’s website.

4. Contact GP Surgeries 

Finding work experience in a hospital can be extremely difficult and competitive, as I outlined above, however, remember that there are a lot more GP surgeries than hospitals. Getting work experience at a GP surgery is invaluable. As doctors, they are the guardians of the NHS, seeing and treating the large majority of patients in the community, and referring only a small proportion to the big hospitals.

medical-school-work-experience-gp-surgery

You can ask your own GP for advice, however, they may not be able to take you on work experience due to confidentiality reasons. Instead, they may be able to guide you towards some of their colleagues in other practices. If this isn’t possible, call, email or send letters to GPs and practice managers in your local area. As mentioned above, be polite and explain what you would like to get out of the experience. Be prepared to accept anything they offer you whether this may be admin tasks or shadowing the practice nurse. You never know, whilst filing away patients’ documents, the GP may call you into their room to observe a consultation with a patient, who doesn’t mind you being there.

5. Check With Schools / School Career Advisors

It is worth checking what your school or college can offer you! Many school’s or college’s career advisors will help you to organise your work experience placements. They may even have links with healthcare professionals who have taken past students on work experience, based on the alumni of your school. 

medical-school-contact-for-work-experience

Here at theMSAG, we often speak to enthusiastic careers advisors who are keen to help students get a place at Medical school. We appreciate that arranging medical work experience is a challenge, so if you’re not having any luck within your school, let us know – we can reach out to your careers advisor to offer some help.

6. Volunteering

As well as healthcare shadowing, medical schools will be expecting you to perform voluntary work. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about different aspects of a caring profession, such as communication, teamwork, commitment, and time-management. All the things that you need to refer to in your personal statement and medical school interviews.

There is an abundance of volunteering opportunities out there. Volunteering opportunities could include: helping at a care home, helping your elderly next-door neighbour with day to day tasks, working in a charity shop or helping out at a Dementia Cafe. In order to find volunteering opportunities, you can check websites such as ‘do-it.org’ or contact organisations like Good Gym, The British Red Cross, The Alzheimer’s Society or St John Ambulance.

workplace-volunteering-for-medical-school

It is best if volunteering is done regularly over a period of months e.g. 1-3 hours a week for 3 - 6 months. This shows commitment and dedication to a cause; it also offers plenty of chances to develop experience in all those aspects of being part of a caring profession that I mentioned above. From my experience, volunteering is really rewarding and you may find yourself wanting to continue volunteering for the charity throughout your medical career.

7. Find Paid Work (e.g. Healthcare Assisting)

If you are interested in gaining some paid experience. Why not look at working as a healthcare assistant? Many medical applicants work as healthcare assistants in their summer holidays or on their gap years. Working as a healthcare assistant, in a hospital, will give you a real insight working as an NHS employee. Also, you may be able to learn clinical skills such as taking observations and taking blood. This will look very impressive on your personal statement or at an interview!

Vacancies are frequently advertised on the NHS Jobs website or healthjobsuk.com. However, one point to raise is generally the application process for finding a healthcare assistant job in the NHS is very long due to the processing of references and DBS (Disclosure and Barring services) clearances i.e. checking to see if you have a criminal record. If you plan to find work for the summer holidays, I advise applying between Christmas and Easter.

8. Overseas Work Experience & Volunteering

If you are struggling to secure work experience in the UK, why not look at traveling abroad? 

Work experience abroad can enable you to understand medicine on a global scale, witnessing first-hand the contrasts between medical care in the Western world and in developing countries. Also, it can give you the opportunity to see rare tropical diseases which may not be present in this part of the world. 

volunteering-abraod-medical-school-applications

There are many organisations out there which offer these work experience placements such as GapMedics, Medical Projects and Global Medical Projects. These organisations offer students the opportunity to shadow doctors in many different specialties in locations such as Thailand, the Caribbean, India, Tanzania and many more. Also, they offer students individualised attention through the assignment of mentors. These overseas placements can make you stand out from the crowd in your personal statement and at interview. However, applicants must also remember that overseas placements are not essential and universities are aware that many applicants cannot afford to go on one of these placements. An alternative would be finding a volunteering opportunity abroad. You can find out more about these volunteering opportunities through organisations such as Projects Abroad and gvi.

9. Medical Summer School

Another great way of obtaining work experience is through medical summer schools. Many universities such as Oxford, UCL and King’s College offer students, with an interest in studying medicine, the option of attending a pre-medical course spanning a number of weeks in their summer holidays. They offer students the opportunity to experience what university life is like and may also give them the opportunity to learn clinical skills such as taking blood pressure, pulse and auscultation of the heart. Also, there may be the opportunity to shadow doctors on the wards and meet patients with chronic illnesses.

If you are interested in attending a medical summer school, theMSAG offer a summer school in partnership with BioGrad at Liverpool Science Park. Please click here for more information. Look out for our upcoming article by Dr Ashish Mandavia on Medical Summer schools on our website.

I hope now that you’ve come to the end of this article, you are more confident in obtaining a work experience placement. With the growing competition to get into medical school you must remember to start looking for work experience early. If you know that you want to apply for medicine in 2 years’ time, now is a perfect time to start. Also, do not give up hope if you do not hear back from hospitals or GPs immediately, keep looking elsewhere! As the common saying goes ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again’. If you still continue to struggle, do not panic. Feel free to contact theMSAG and we will be happy to be your guide!

medical-school-prep-courses

Another great way of obtaining work experience is through medical summer schools. Many universities such as Oxford, UCL and King’s College offer students, with an interest in studying medicine,  the option of attending a pre-medical course spanning a number of weeks in their summer holidays.  They offer students the opportunity to experience what university life is like and may also give them the opportunity to learn clinical skills such as taking blood pressure, pulse and auscultation of the heart. Also, there may be the opportunity to shadow doctors on the wards and meet patients with chronic illnesses.

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