Useful work experience enhances your understanding of the reality of working in a caring profession and the challenges of medicine as a career.
For the vast majority of medical schools, there is no minimum requirement for number of hours of work experience carried out. In fact, this is counter intuitive to the aims of work experience as the focus should be on quality, rather than quantity.
The value of your work experience will be assessed through your personal statement, references and your interview. You need to bring your experience and thoughts to synthesise succinct reflections that demonstrate your learning process.
Some applications to medical schools has been unsuccessful due to the lack of appropriate reflections on their work experience. To get the best out of your time at work experience, write down what you did in a diary. Specifically, write down any examples of of scenarios/situations that you encountered that an interviewer might want to talk to you more about, or situations whereby you saw good attributes of being a doctor on display.
Kwang Hee, University of Cambridge
“I made it a point to meet and speak to patients during my work experience at a GP practice to understand their illness from their perspective, which I found especially useful in honing my communication skills. Despite my initial reservations, I found the patients to be extremely generous in sharing their stories and experiences, especially when I introduced myself as a college student carrying out work experience.”
Catherine – University of East Anglia
“Keeping a diary to jot down who I had spoken to, short quotations, or the first names or initials of people and any diseases or drugs that patients were given proved enormously useful when it came to reflecting on my work experience and preparing for interview.
Whilst you must maintain patient confidentiality, being able to talk about Mr. X’s personal experience of having a stroke and mentioning quotations or specific treatment regimens and how patients found them provides a holistic understanding of health. Personal insights such as this are valuable additions to your personal statement, rather than generic platitudes which are not backed by evidence.”
Whilst long term work experience in a hospital is impressive and provides material for discussion, it is perhaps better to have spent a few days in several different places gaining different experiences, rather than in one narrow niche of medicine. Try not to worry too much about how high-profile your work experience seems, instead focus on what you can learn from it and the insights they can provide.
Ideally if you can, try and show commitment by demonstrating a sustained interest in a personal care role, ideally more than a couple of months in your spare time.
Don’t worry if you can’t get much experience in secondary care – in hospitals. Start early and be persistent in your efforts to secure an experience somewhere. Whilst often tough to secure high profile placements, there are a huge number of options for relevant and interesting experiences out there. It is not necessarily the most high-profile experience that will teach you the most about the reality of medicine, so do try to be open-minded and approach a diverse range of people. Most places don’t turn students down to be unhelpful, but most often because they already have other students and are busy. Thus try to organise yourself and send off polite letters well in advance to avoid having to compete with other eager medics for places.
Ben – University of St Andrews
“I managed to secure hospital-based work experience via a family friend. Thanks to him, I spent a valuable week shadowing doctors in a busy labour ward which gave me a great overview of how a hospital works, with the efficiency of multidisciplinary teams really shining through.”
Laura – University of Manchester
“My most memorable work experience was on the paediatric wards – attending clinics with various doctors taught me about how different doctors approach problems and what was most effective. Observing doctors communicate effectively and examining children taught me a great deal about the skill set needed to be a pragmatic clinician alongside alleviating patients’ anxiety.”
Aside from purely medical work experience, there are plenty of other skills that are valuable to develop. Doctors often play a role as educators and teachers – both to their patients, to younger doctors, and to medical students. Consider gaining some work experience by teaching in schools or tutoring other students. You may want to develop your team leader and teamwork skills by a summer holiday job, or by organising a fundraising project. This would provide something interesting to write about on your personal statement, and solid examples to justify relevant personal attributes and ‘transferable skills’ in interview.
Try to always relate your experience to a medical career. Maybe those angry customers in your job helped to develop your skills at listening to people and responding with pragmatic advice in times of stress to reach a solution that both parties were happy with. Perhaps organising a fundraising trip, or charity projects meant meeting and contacting many agencies or organising events – you would have to work as a leader to head these events, and also to cooperate with others to understand their needs and expectations, thus learning how to ‘meet in the middle.’
In summary – there is a huge world of relevant experiences out there. Don’t be put off if you get rejection letters from some of the places that you apply to, they are often oversubscribed. Plan ahead for highest chance of securing placements in your chosen area and don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little by exploring experiences in other areas of medicine, or other fields to develop relevant skills and insight into a medical career.