Whether you have wanted to become a doctor your whole life or you are now thinking of applying to Medicine, you are probably aware that work experience comes with the territory. Some medical schools even state they require it as part of their admissions process. There is an abundance of different types of work experiences out there, however, in this blog post, I’m going to focus on volunteering.
Many universities understand that work experience within a hospital setting is extremely hard to come by and instead will accept voluntary work. Voluntary work is an excellent way for you to develop personally, acquiring many new skills in communication, empathy, time-management and teamwork. It can also be extremely rewarding, and you can make a positive impact in your local community. A key part of being a doctor is showing that you care and that you are not just in the job for money. Voluntary work will show that you have a ‘heart’ along with your ‘brains’. However, ‘What is ‘good’ volunteer work?’, I hear you ask. Let me share some of my top tips!
There are many different types of volunteering and all volunteering is GOOD! Volunteering for an animal charity is great and a very worthwhile cause, however, top this up with volunteer experience which is somewhat related to healthcare. Be creative when choosing your volunteer work and do something that you'll enjoy. It will be much more impressive for an interviewer to see that you are passionate about your volunteer work. The great thing about volunteering is that no matter where you do it, you’ll gain skills which are relevant to a career in Medicine. There are far too many opportunities out there for me to discuss them all but use this list as a foundation for your research. Another excellent site to check out is ‘do-it.org'.
Charity shops are a great way to boost your communication skills and are a relatively easy way of securing a volunteering opportunity. Although it doesn't give you direct exposure to medicine/ health care, it will build you confidence in dealing with many different customers and teamwork skills working alongside my colleagues. In order to maximise the benefits of your volunteering opportunity you must put your all into it, then you are much more likely to see the benefits.
A great way of getting work experience in a hospital setting is by volunteering. Many hospitals now run their own healthcare volunteer service, offering patients an extra person to talk to. These opportunities can offer you exposure within the clinical setting and help you to understand the healthcare system.
For example, the Royal Free Charity in London run a ‘Young Volunteers Programme’ for 16-25-year-olds. Many of their young volunteers are interested in pursuing a career in healthcare or many just want to give back to the NHS. To find out more about this programmeclick here. However, these volunteering opportunities are becoming more and more attractive to medical students and they also require a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check which can take up to 6 months to process. Therefore, you must apply as early as possible to increase your chances of securing a placement. In order to find these volunteering opportunities check out your local hospitals’ websites. To get you startedclick here for a link to all of the NHS trusts in England.
If you are unable to find volunteering experience in a hospital, care homes or hospices are the next best thing. Care homes are full of fascinating individuals who have great stories to tell and are looking for someone to have a chat with. They provide an environment for you to improve on your communication skills, developing a rapport with the residents. Also, you may have the opportunity to learn some practical skills, offering hands-on care to the patients.
There are hundreds of charities out there, all with many different ways for you to get involved. There is no excuse for not being able to secure a volunteering opportunity. Here are some of my favourite charities for you to get started on your search:
If you like to travel and you are struggling to find a volunteering opportunity you enjoy, why not look at travelling abroad? Medical volunteer programs such asProjects Abroad,PlanMyGapYear andGVI offer medically related volunteering opportunities in several countries in South America, Africa and Asia. Not only will you get to shadow medical professionals but you may also be able to take part in basic medical care such as taking observations, dressing wounds etc. You'll also be exposed to different diseases more common in your host country, such as HIV/Aids and malaria.
Whilst in Sixth Form, I travelled to Romania with the charity School Aid Romania to volunteer in the orphanages, care homes and hospitals. This was one of the most unforgettable and rewarding experiences of my life. Prior to my trip, I took part in a lot of fundraising activities such as coffee mornings, organising a masquerade ball and bag packing.
Be sensible and make sure that your volunteer work won’t interfere with your high school studies. Start early and rack up those hours! The importance of volunteering is a dedication to the cause. Medicine is a life-long commitment and it is important to show that you are able to commit to something. In my opinion, it is much more impressive to do as little as 1 to 3 hours a week of volunteering over 3 to 6 months rather than one month of volunteering over your summer holidays. Also, choose only 1 or 2 places to volunteer. If you have lots of short volunteer experience, interviewers may question your commitment or your ability to work alongside others.
Don’t give up! If you don’t get the volunteering opportunity you want straight away, try and try again.
Say YES! Say yes to everything they ask you to do, no matter how tricky or new it is to you (within reason).
Keep a reflective log diary. This will come extremely handy when it comes to writing your personal statement and at interview. Being reflective pre med school will help you in the transition, as lots of your learning comes from looking back at your experiences.
Stay committed - dedication is key! Choose something you enjoy so that you are much more likely to commit. Also choose somewhere which is easy to get to i.e. near to home or school.
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