Experience in a busy hospital can be hard to secure, and universities are aware of this. Instead you could offer to be a volunteer – providing basic patient assistance, talking to patients on the wards, assisting disabled patients, or shadowing doctors. Contact the voluntary services of your local hospital (via their website), they should be able to help.
Be aware that often these voluntary jobs require a long-term commitment, thus plan in advance and give yourself time to fulfil a volunteering placement. Whilst length of work experience isn’t critical, a more timely experience would give you more to talk about on your personal statement and in interview, thus try to set aside sufficient time to equip yourself for these.
Also, consider that hospitals may take up to 6 months to process your application and will require a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Note that you must be aged 16 or older to work in a hospital (legal restrictions). Consider organising voluntary work in a hospital during or after your final GCSE year.
Experience in primary care is, in many ways, more essential compared to hospital care experience as the majority of healthcare is currently community-based. Perhaps approach your local GP surgery, explain who you are and offer a CV or application letter to indicate your interest in carrying out work experience there. Smaller organisations are often far more able to organise placements for eager students, rather than hospitals but again planning ahead will avoid problems of oversubscription.
Each patient will need to verbally consent for you to sit in as a work experience student. Whilst most patients are happy to allow others to sit in to help their learning, do be be prepared for occasional refusal by patients. Some GP practises refuse students who are also patients at the practise (for fear of recognising their neighbours), so you may have to venture further.
You will be briefed on the confidentiality policy of the practice upon arrival. It is an important principle to get used to early on and you must not discuss any patient details with anyone other than the GP. It is a privilege to get an insight into the personal details of people’s lives, and to demonstrate your respect, ensure that you keep the information they share private and anonymous.
An advantage of primary care work experience is that the placement is local in the community and will enable you to see and talk to a wide variety of patients with varied clinical presentations, backgrounds and interpretations of their own medical ailments. 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 website to find nearby GP practices.
Make sure you keep a work experience diary – this doesn’t mean documenting everything single thing you see or do, but more importantly giving yourself a chance to reflect on what your experiences have taught you. It may sound tedious and unnecessary but it will make writing your personal statement and preparing for interviews far more straightforward.
These will provide insight into palliative and end of life care, which is becoming more relevant due to an ageing population. There is the opportunity for a deeper reflection and analysis of good patient care through such a placement. It enables you to think holistically and also reflect on the limitations of modern medicine. If you develop a good relationship with the care providers, there are often a wide range of experiences and volunteering opportunities that they can help organise such as attending day centres, going to family homes or attending the in-patient unit. 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 cutting-edge operation or of an emergency department; but volunteering in a nursing home has many advantages. It is easy to secure with appropriate contact and a DBS check. It provides an opportunity to talk to people that have experienced a lifetime of health and illness and gain their perspectives. You can make a positive difference to the day of those you meet, and get a valuable impression of the roles of the care assistants, nurses and doctors who all look after the elderly. You will have the chance to perform some hands on care and attend activities as a volunteer. If you have a longer block of time available, consider working as a care assistant as a summer or gap year job. Those who really listen and have plenty of patience will learn a huge amount.
Additional support needs
There are many centres in the community, both NHS-funded and charity-funded that support adults and children with additional learning or communication needs. You can make a difference to people’s lives, and learn more about the challenges faced by disabled members of society. You will be able to work out how best to communicate and collaborate with different individuals. Reflect on how you can overcome difficulties and develop rapport and trust with those who are more limited in their understanding and/or expression.
St John Ambulance
The opportunities here are vast. If you crave hands on practical skills training and an opportunity to practise them in real life situations then this is a great option. You will learn first aid skills and then put them to practise on members of the public. In return, you will need to commit some time and effort to develop the skills and understanding you need to deliver first aid care effectively. Have a look at their website.
Working with children
This isn’t just fun but is also highly relevant. Children make up an important workload of primary care and of course paediatric care. Don’t discount the value of working at local groups like kids’ clubs, children sports teams, or at disability or disadvantaged support centres. You could approach your old primary school, your local sports centre or local special educational needs centre.
Counselling or support work
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). These require long term commitment and considerable training so make sure you plan in advance and give yourself enough time to complete the training and get experience on the job. A further advantage is that these options may be more unique compared to more generic voluntary placements, providing something fresh and interesting to discuss on your application. For more information, have a look at the Samaritans website and the NSPCC website.