Getting into medical school is seriously competitive.
Work experience is one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd and gain a meaningful insight into your future career.
To get medical work experience, you need to be persistent, but the most important thing is to reflect on what you learn. The universities want to see that you know what a doctor actually does and whether you are a good fit.
For advice on medical entry exams and how to get a place at university, read 'How to get into medical school'.
If you are struggling to find healthcare work experience, try our work experience map.
Type in where you would like to do work experience in the search box and any available places will appear on the map.
Click on your chosen place to find:
There is usually no official minimum requirement for the number of hours of work experience you need, but it makes sense to aim for about two weeks. If you can do more, that’s great, but usually two weeks is fine, and indeed even less than two weeks is rarely a big issue.
Aiming for a high target in terms of time can even be counterproductive. Your focus should be on quality rather than quantity.
If your interest is primarily dentistry, read our dentistry application overview.
Read Samar’s story about getting into dentistry at Manchester, which she achieved partially thanks to her high-quality, multinational work experience.
Experience in a busy hospital can be hard to secure. Although universities are aware of this and it is fortunately not compulsory, it is still very useful and worth pursuing.
You could volunteer to provide basic patient assistance, talk to patients on the wards, assist disabled patients or shadow doctors.
You must be aged 16 or older to work in a hospital due to legal restrictions.
Consider organising voluntary work in a hospital during or after your final GCSE year.
Laura, University of Manchester
"My most memorable work experience was on the paediatric wards. Attending clinics with various doctors taught me about how different people can approach problems in a variety of ways. Observing doctors communicating effectively and examining children taught me a great deal about the skill set needed to be a pragmatic clinician. It also showed me how to alleviate patients’ anxiety."
There are a lot of opportunities to volunteer with the NHS. You can volunteer at your local hospital in a range of roles:
The opportunities available can vary from hospital to hospital, so be sure to contact your local hospital to find out what roles are available. You can also volunteer at your local GP surgery, but be sure to contact the surgery to know what options are available.
If you’re over 18, consider being an NHS volunteer responder. There are a range of responder roles, and you’ll be able to meet patients from all walks of life.
Shadowing a doctor in primary care is, in many ways, more essential than hospital care experience because the majority of healthcare is currently community-based.
In order to get medical work experience with your GP, approach your local surgery, explain who you are and offer a CV or application letter to indicate your interest.
Smaller organisations are often far more able than hospitals to organise placements for eager students, but planning ahead will avoid the problem of oversubscription.
Keep in mind:
Primary care is the first point of contact for any member of the public with the health services and is absolutely critical to the successful functioning of the NHS. Have a look at NHS Choices to find GP practices near you.
Volunteering abroad, while not a direct substitute for local work experience, can give you a great insight into different attitudes to medicine.
Websites to find healthcare work experience abroad:
Although work experience typically happens in person, the pandemic has created virtual work experience opportunities.
Adopts the format of a course, with various modules that cover different hospital departments. To receive certification, you have to submit a short reflective piece of work.
With this, you can tour a GP practice and watch four consultations. Get a taste of the skills required by a GP.
This site offers free virtual work experience with different hospitals. Opportunities aren't always available, but once you’ve signed up, keep up to date with your emails. You have to apply to the opportunities that suit you and different programmes will have varying eligibility criteria.
With this site, you can do short courses to increase your knowledge of the NHS and further your scientific interests.
You can register for virtual work experience on this site and apply to different opportunities that come up.
Find out more about medical and dental applications in the age of COVID-19.
Getting medical work experience in sixth form is a great way to boost your application.
Persistence is key. Keep calling up different practices until you find one that says ‘yes’.
A graduate’s skillset can make them more desirable to placement and work experience providers than a secondary-school student.
Graduate-Entry Medicine and Graduate-Entry Dentistry are highly competitive, so having extensive work experience in the care sector can make you stand out.
If you choose a first degree in a related field, like nursing or pharmacy, you’ll get hands-on work experience as a result of your university placements.
Consider the diverse range of alternatives below, and before you even start with work experience, start to build vital skills such as manual dexterity.
Immersing yourself in the world of dentistry online also means you can hit the ground running on your first day.
After graduating dental school, you’re most likely going to be working in a general dental practice, so it’s important to know how they work.
Many universities prefer candidates to have experience in general dental practice.
These include (but are not limited to): the University of Sheffield, the University of Newcastle and the University of Manchester.
During your time at a general dental practice, you’ll probably do administrative tasks like booking appointments and filing patient records. You may also have the opportunity to shadow dental nurses and dentists during surgery.
You can try getting work experience at private dental practices. You can use this experience to draw comparisons between the delivery of private care and the delivery of NHS care.
Orthodontics is a speciality within dentistry that focuses on the correction of bites and irregularities of the teeth. A placement in orthodontics will mostly involve you observing or doing administrative work.
This allows you to demonstrate your understanding of different specialities within dentistry and how they interact with each other (such as referrals from general practice to orthodontics).
A placement in a hospital is always valuable to have. As well as seeing a speciality within dentistry, you’ll get experience in the hospital environment.
You’ll be able to see how the dental team interacts with a wider team within the hospital. This is useful to reflect on in your personal statement and interviews.
You don’t have to shadow a dentist to get experience.
It’s important to understand other members of the dental team. At a dental laboratory, you’ll most likely shadow a dental technician. You may even have the opportunity to make impressions or dentures, or to try some of the lab equipment.
This specialist practice is for patients who can’t attend a general dental practice because of travel difficulties, a phobia of dentists or some other obstacle.
Having a few days of work experience in a community dental practice will help you appreciate how social factors can affect a patient's likelihood to get treatment.
Hospices provide insight into palliative and end-of-life care, which is becoming more relevant in our ageing population.
Working in a hospice provides an opportunity for deeper reflection on and analysis of good patient care. It enables you to think holistically and reflect on the limitations of modern medicine.
If you develop a good relationship with the care providers, they can often help you organise a wide range of experiences and volunteering opportunities, such as attending day centres, going to family homes or attending in-patient units.
Have a look at the Hospice UK website for general information and to research your local hospice.
It may not match the fast-paced excitement of a surgical operation or an emergency department, but volunteering in a nursing home has many advantages.
If you have a longer block of time available, consider working as a care assistant for a summer or gap-year job.
If you really listen and have plenty of patience, you will learn a huge amount.
There are many centres in the community, both NHS-funded and charity-funded, that support adults and children with additional learning or communication needs. If you secure work experience at one of these centres, you can:
The opportunities here are vast. If you crave hands-on practical skills training and real-life situations, this is a great option. With St John Ambulance, you can:
Don’t discount the value of working with local groups like kids’ clubs, children’s sports teams or at support centres for disabled or disadvantaged people. This is not just fun but also highly relevant. Children make up an important workload of primary care and, of course, paediatric care.
You could approach your old primary school, your local sports centre or a special educational needs centre.
There are opportunities for training and gaining experience with support groups such as Samaritans or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Experience with these groups is generally more unique than the experience you gain through other types of voluntary placements and thus provides something fresh and interesting to discuss on your application.
This kind of work requires long-term commitment and considerable training, however, so be sure to plan in advance and give yourself enough time.
There are many advantages to this sort of experience. You will:
Use nationwide placement finders like RateMyPlacement or ask your sixth-form or college if they know any research laboratories.
At medical laboratories you’ll be able to see how blood tests and other similar procedures are done and how the work of the laboratory staff influences the decisions made by a doctor. This will allow you to appreciate the work of laboratory technicians and scientists, without whom doctors wouldn’t be able to do their job.
Try contacting your local hospital to arrange a couple of days working in the pathology lab or you can ask your sixth form or college if they have any contacts.
Keep a diary and reflect on experiences that help you to develop these skills or qualities:
Everyone makes mistakes and your placement providers know that.
The important thing is to make sure that you turn your mistakes into a learning opportunity.
When you do make a mistake, consider these two key questions:
Taking the time to reflect makes your work experience much more valuable.
It’s definitely worth mentioning your work experience, but only if it’s relevant, and remember that it’s not compulsory to talk about work experience anywhere.
You should talk about it in your personal statement as it’ll show the admissions tutors that you understand what a career in medicine or dentistry involves.
Interviewers may explicitly ask you about your work experience or they may ask you about a time where you demonstrated a certain skill, thus giving you an opportunity to talk about your work experience.
For medical and dental school interviews, a lot of universities recommend the STARR approach when describing what happened. This will help you explain everything that's relevant in a concise manner:
Example - “tell me about a time you communicated well”
Situation: Briefly explain the scenario
I was helping at the reception of a GP practice when a lady who didn't speak very much English came to the counter. She wanted to know how to get the flu jab, but she was struggling to understand what was being said to her.
Task: Explain what needed to be done
I needed to explain to the lady how to get a flu jab, help her book an appointment and make sure she understood.
Action: Explain what you did
I explained everything slowly, using simple language and not using any figurative expressions to reduce the likelihood of miscommunication. I waited for the lady to understand what I had just said before moving on. I also passed on information to the receptionist so that they could book a translator for her appointment.
Result: Explain what the outcome was
The lady was able to successfully book her flu jab and was able to understand all the information.
Reflection: How did this help? How could you improve? What did you learn from it? What can I go and read about from here?
This experience was useful as I was able to appreciate the challenges people may have in accessing healthcare due to language barriers. I was able to develop my communication skills and I could also see the difference effective communication makes for people.
Usually, your work experience won’t compensate for any other part of your application.
However, in the case that two students have identical marks, UCAT and interview scores, it could swing the decision in your favour.
Admissions tutors are fully aware of the cost and logistics of doing work experience abroad and do not favour students who are able to do so.
Ahmad, University of Manchester
"As an international applicant, it was practical for me to shadow doctors on a busy labour ward in my home country, Malaysia. It was an exciting 2 weeks which allowed me to gain an insider’s perspective on how a government hospital worked alongside supplementing my existing knowledge of my local healthcare system. It was useful to meet doctors who had studied overseas and had returned to work in Malaysia and I was able to learn from their experiences too. To ensure that I was aware of how the UK healthcare system worked for the purpose of my interview, I researched it online thoroughly to prepare myself.’
Admissions tutors understand that not everybody is in a position where they can go and do work experience physically. Doing virtual work experience will show tutors that you have taken an initiative and that is a good thing.
You don’t need to mention the fact that you have no physical work experience in your personal statement.
Work experience is more your need than your placement providers’. This means it’s unlikely you’ll be paid for it. Avoid discussing pay with your placement providers unless they bring it up, as it can give a bad impression.
What admissions tutors are trying to find out from your work experience is whether you have a realistic understanding of what a career as a doctor or dentist entails.
As long as you can demonstrate that, tutors don’t mind if your work experience was at the reception of a GP surgery or watching live open-heart surgery.
Healthcare work experience is ideal. It’s directly linked to the field you hope to work in.
Some universities, like the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen, also specifically advise getting healthcare-related work experience.
The Medical Schools Council has more information on what each medical school advises. Be sure to check it out, so you know what the medical schools you’re applying to are expecting.
Work experience and volunteering are both important. While work experience demonstrates your awareness of the medical or dental profession, volunteering shows your humanitarian side. It demonstrates that you want to help others and are a compassionate individual. This is difficult to show in your work experience.
Ideally, you should do both work experience and volunteering. It’s okay if you can’t do one or the other, as long as you have other examples to demonstrate the same skill.
Universities may ask you to provide proof of attending work experience, so always be honest in what you have or haven't done, and be sure to have some correspondence from your placement providers confirming that you've attended.
Ideally, work experience should be as recent as possible. Some universities recommend that your work experience be within 2 years of applying.
Having recent work experience means that your experience will be fresher in your mind.
Don’t panic! It might seem a bit bleak right now but think carefully. The most important thing is that you can prove you have the skills you need to be a doctor or a dentist
Have you ever done any paid work? Have you ever helped out with anything at school or college? Have you helped explain a difficult topic to a friend? Have you helped a friend who was going through a difficult time? Have you ever worked in a team, be it as part of a practical experiment at college or even as part of a sports team?
You can find relevant experiences in any of these contexts.
Usually you won’t need to write a CV, but depending on where you’re applying you may need to write a brief explanation of how this work experience will help you and what you hope to get out of it.
If you are asked to attach a CV, make sure it’s up to date and professional. Include as many skills as possible to show your placement providers that you would do well in a medical or dental environment.
Getting work experience in the medical or dental field can be competitive. It may be hard to find a placement that can take you in. It’s likely that you may face some rejections before you get a hold of something, so stay positive and know that even these rejections are part of the process.
Although any work experience you do after your deadline can’t be written about in your personal statement, it’s still useful. You can use what you learn to help you with your interviews.