Getting the right work experience when you're considering applying for medicine is absolutely vital for your personal statement and your interviews, but what is the right work experience and how can you find it?
The aim of work experience is twofold. It's for you to see whether you are going to be suited to life as a doctor before you commit all the time and effort into studying for it for years and so the admissions tutors at medical school can see whether you are the right kind of person, whether you're going to be committed, whether you're going to put the effort in to studying for this, and all the work it takes into being a doctor.
I'm going to take you through how you can get a placement, the different types of placements, what you're going to get out of placement, and how you can talk about it so that you really shine in your interviews.
All medical schools recognize that finding suitable work experience is going to be easier for some people than for other people, none of them say that it has to be two weeks within hospital because that's not always going to be possible for you; for example, it's going to be easy for you, if both of your parents are doctors and if they're working in London as opposed to someone who's both parents are unemployed and living in the middle of the countryside. They're going to have different experiences of finding work experience, so if you can't find work experience within hospital, there are lots of other things that you can do. All the med schools are looking for somebody who is committed, who is dedicated, and is caring. They want to know that you're going to be there and do the best for the patients.
A placement within a hostel is going to be a goldmine of opportunities. You may get to round with a junior doctor, you may get to sit in on meetings, you may get to watch small procedures taking place. If you know someone who is a doctor, they're going to be your first port of call for trying to get this placement. Then talk to your teachers, they may know someone, they may have contacts, I'm sure they've been helping to potential medical students, for years now. They may know former students who are currently studying to be doctors, who are already doctors, and they can put you in touch. They may be your best source of trying to find a placement within hospital.
If that doesn't provide anything, then I suggest you get in contact with your local hospital trust. They may have a formal program in place which you can apply to; do this as early as possible because you don't want to miss out on the places and you don't want to miss any application deadlines. They can put you in touch with the right people. And don't just think about hospitals within your local area or within the same country because there are loads of hospitals, some of them may have better formal programs if you go abroad for a bit.
If you've never been to your local hospital, then I'm sure you've seen your local GP on a semi-regular basis. There are a lot more GPs around then there are hospitals around, so this might give you a better shot of getting a placement, maybe doing a week's worth of work shadowing. The first thing you can do here is to email or call in to the reception and see if they have something in place. They may say yes; they may say no. And the advantage of there being a lot more GPs around than there are hospitals around is that you can apply or ask at a lot more places. And hopefully one of them will say yes for you.
Volunteering is an excellent idea. And even if you have hospital placement or you have your GP's placement, there's no reason why you can't add volunteering as well. It shows a different dimension, and it gives you more things to talk about within your interview and personal statements.
Volunteering in a care home every Saturday morning for a year shows dedication, it shows commitment, it shows that you're willing to turn up and do the hard work; now this can't be something that you start just before your application. It can't be something that you say you're going to start after your application; you have to go into your application showing that you've been doing this already for a sustained period of time and that you plan to continue doing it after you've hopefully got that place at medical school. the St John's ambulance are a fantastic, fantastic place to start volunteering. They are going to give you first aid training, you're going to have to turn up to events on a regular basis, you're going to be treating real patients out in the field.
The Red Cross have emergency volunteers who, when a situation happens, they need to come in and help sort things out. For example, distributing food bags, distributing clothes to people that are in need in emergencies. All of these volunteering experiences will give you a different side to the whole part that is medical care.
It is absolutely pointless doing any work experience if you cannot reflect on it properly at the end, if you can't work out what you've seen, what you've learned, and what you could do about it. A month's amazing work experience in a hospital is going to be absolutely worthless if you don't get anything out of it. If you can't talk about what you've learned, if you can't talk about what you've gained, if you can't talk about anything that inspired you from that, so if you want to get the most out of your medical work experience, then you're going to need to get involved, not just stand back passively; ask questions, ask the doctor, why did they do this? Offer to help in small ways that you can. Find out what's going on; at the end of each day, spend some time just making notes on what you've seen. Follow up on anything that is interesting, if there was an interesting condition or an interesting procedure, read some papers about it, go watch some YouTube videos about it, follow up on what you've learned in any way that you can, and make sure that you write all of this down because you medical work experience might be some time away from your interview, and you want to be able to go back, just before your interview, and read your notes about your work experience so that they're fresh on your mind, so that you can talk about them when we get to interview.
Finding work experience can be a bit tricky, but you just need to keep going, and you need to be determined, and show your passion for being a doctor.