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Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Work Experience

By Dr Ella Quintela 

· Application Strategy

Whether you’ve wanted to be a doctor from the tender age of 6 or have stumbled upon medicine later on in life, completing a work experience placement is a must if you want to apply to medicine. Work experience is an essential part of the application process, demonstrating your interest, dedication to the career and showing the admissions tutors that this is a decision not taken lightly. By now, you may know that there’s a whole range of different work experience placements you can do, but if you’re struggling for ideas, do make sure to check out Gerens Curnow’s blog, ”What type of work experience should I do?”. Securing a work experience is another blog post altogether, and our MSAG guide, Roxanne Sutthakorn’s has just posted about our latest thinking on how to get onto a work experience placement – check out her blog post here.

Over the course of my post, I’ll try to give you some tips on making the most of your work experience placement. Whether you’re based in a small community practice or a large tertiary trauma centre, a lot can be learnt from the experience. The same applies to the duration of your placement – it is what you make out of the time spent shadowing doctors that’s important, not just the length of time that you spend there! So, after countless emails, you’ve managed to get a week’s worth of work experience at your local hospital. What now?

Before the Placement

Cross the T's and dot the I's

Make sure you’ve filled in all the necessary paperwork (there can be a lot) and know where you need to go on the first day. Aim to get there prepared and promptly, the last thing you want is to be running late.

medical-school-workplace-experience-paperwork

20 Questions

Before you go, try to have an idea of what you want to find out about a career in medicine, and maybe even have a list of questions ready. As well as, asking about the best parts of medicine, don’t forget to find out about some of the less positive aspects. This will allow you to be able to make a more balanced decision as to whether medicine is the right choice for you. Some questions to think about asking include:

  1. Why did you go into medicine?
  2. What is the best part of your job?
  3. If you were to go to medical school again, how would you change how you approached it?
  4. What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
  5. What are your working hours like?
  6. How do you find working in the NHS?
  7. What is it about this specialty that you like the most?
  8. How does the training pathway work for this specialty?
  9. How do you balance your time effectively?

How to Balance Time Effectively 

Remember to be bright eyed and bushy tailed!

As a person strongly considering a career in medicine, I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you to show interest. Throughout your placement, be enthusiastic and take the opportunity to observe whatever you can. You might also be given the opportunity to spend time with other medical professions such as nurses and pharmacists. Take this opportunity to learn and appreciate the multi-disciplinary approach to patient care. You might also find yourself more drawn to these careers rather than medicine, and that’s okay too – that’s the whole point of getting experience!

balancing-workplace-experience-for-medical-school

AKI, CABG, PPI, GMC, NICE, ABG, AAA?!

Medics are notorious for speaking a different language to other professionals. So whilst on your placement, you should expect to come across some concepts (and a lot of acronyms) which you won’t have seen or heard before. Even though the days may be busy, those around will always be happy to briefly take the time to explain. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification - no one will be expecting you to know everything.

Seek out the full picture

Try to speak to lots of different people – you’ll find that the F1 (foundation year one) doctor on the ward will have a very different perspective from the consultant surgeon! This will also give you a good overview of how the role progresses from a junior to a senior doctor and the challenges that appear at each stage of the training process. It will also you allow to better imagine what the end goal will be – can you see yourself doing what the consultant is doing now? However, remember that medicine is an ever-evolving job – if, in doubt, you can always quiz the senior doctors on where they see the specialty is going!

medical-school-work-experience-tips

Dear diary…

During your placement, aim to keep a log of what you’ve seen (whilst maintaining patient confidentiality). For example, if you sat in a GP’s (general practitioner) morning surgery, try to pick out a particular  consultation that stood out to you. This can be for any reason at all. Examples include:

  • Was a patient diagnosed with an interesting condition that you had not encountered before?
  • Was there a good example of a good doctor-patient relationship?
  • Was there a dilemma or potential issue that the doctor and patient worked together to overcome?
  • An example of different healthcare professionals working together (for example during multi-disciplinary meetings)
  • Any interesting procedures or operations

After the Placement

Reflect reflect reflect 

Being a doctor can be hard. Some of the things that we see on a daily basis can be difficult to process. We develop connections with unwell patients and these patients may pass away. We get busy and can make mistakes. As a result, reflecting on these challenging situations is an important aspect of being a doctor and self-development. It ensures that you can recall experiences and learn from them. There’s nothing stopping you from getting a head start on this sort of practise before you apply to medical school.

With each experience that you have noted down, try to write a couple of sentences so that you can remember the experience for the future. Maybe you can discuss this experience at interview or write about it in your personal statement?  You might even be interested in the topic enough to go on to carry out some further reading or complete an extended project qualification (EPQ) about what you saw.

what-to-do-after-workplace-experience-for-med-school

When writing your reflections, don’t forget to have a structure. Jot down a couple of sentences about the context – when did it happen? Where was it? What happened exactly? Then, ask yourself what was the impact of this experience on me? What did I learn? It could be that you learnt about a disease, something new about the NHS, something about a career in Medicine or even about yourself. Importantly, once you’ve noted what you learn, consider how you will apply this new understanding when you attend medical school or when you become a doctor.

Reflection is a tricky skill and it requires practise. The log you keep during your work experience will come in very handy when you construct your personal statement and when preparing for interviews so start early and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. For help with preparing your personal statement, look out for our upcoming post from Christie Mellor with her tips for writing a personal statement, alternatively, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free marking of your personal statement.

Asking for a friend

Use your work experience placement to see if there are any other opportunities such as a part-time job or a volunteering scheme that you can get involved with. The doctors at the practice or work experience coordinators may signpost you to other things that you can get involved in – make sure to ask if there are any available. 

The aim of your work experience is not to tick a box on the application to medical school. Instead, it’s to get a feel for what your future career may look like and see if it is something that you want to pursue. If you don’t like what you see, then that’s fine – medicine is not for everyone. However, if you do like what you see, make the most out of it. Follow the guidance that I’ve written about and make sure that you can recall the new memories that you make in the hospitals or GP practise or wherever you get to experience life as a doctor.

I do hope that you enjoy your upcoming work experience placement and make the most of the opportunities presented to you whilst you are there! Don’t forget that theMSAG are with you every step of the way, so if you have any questions, let us know and we are happy to be your guide.

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