You may hear stories of students that hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, or rescue newborn babies in Nepal, or that scrub into revolutionary reconstructive surgeries in Tokyo. First of all, do not panic. Doing work experience abroad is by no means a compulsory part of your medical school application nor is it something that will necessary put you at any advantage compared to those that stay in the UK.
Admissions tutors are fully aware of the cost and the logistics of doing work experience abroad and do not look at applications expecting or especially favouring students that have completed their work experience overseas.
What admissions tutors really do care about is what you have made of your work experience wherever it was. The ability to reflect and say what surprised you, what interested you, what challenges and positives of a medical career it highlighted are far more important than the simple profile of a glamorous location or prestigious hospital name. Whether you spent your work experience in a Yorkshire GP practice, in a cardiac ward in London or in a women’s ward in Mumbai, use it and get as much value from it as possible. Keep a diary, quote what patients or doctors have said and think deeply about what it all means in the framework of a medical career.
Carrying out work experience in the UK also gives you the advantage of getting a glimpse into how the NHS works, which is essential to understand as you are applying to a UK medical school and will soon be part of this organisation.
Beatrice, University of Bristol
“I went to a rural hospital in Tanzania and spent two weeks shadowing doctors in the general medical and O&G (obstetrics and gynaecology) wards. It was an incredible and eye opening experience but it wasn’t the thing that got me into medical school. Being able to sit and try to communicate with and listen to a post-stroke patient in rehab whilst at my local hospital, volunteering at my local nursing home and sitting in with my local GP and paediatrician all provided experiences which translated into a wealth of topics to discuss in interviews and were plenty without needing my experiences abroad. I feel very lucky that I was able to go abroad and see medicine in a totally different and unfamiliar environment and it taught me a lot about politics, culture and infrastructure as much as it did about medicine.”
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 two 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 as well. 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. "
As part of your personal statement and medical application, work experience abroad is an added bonus and point of interest. However, it is by no means a necessity or the only thing that will make you stand out and help to win you that medical school place. Question, experience and reflect well on what you have witnessed and you are well on your way to success whatever work experience you do.