So, you’re thinking about applying to Medicine. One of the best ways to find out about medicine is through paid or voluntary medical work experience. There is a diverse range of work experiences for you to choose from. Currently, all universities in the UK require applicants to have work experience within a ‘caring environment’. This may be healthcare shadowing, voluntary or paid work. Universities are looking for dedication to study medicine, they are not looking at applicants who are just academically excellent but applicants who can offer the whole package.
Start as early as possible
It is never too early to start work experience. The competition between medical applicants is high and you need to get in there early to secure your placement. Most applicants will start applying for work experience during their summer holidays between Year 12 and 13, therefore you should get in there early and start applying at Christmas or Easter.
If you are keen to learn about Medicine before you step into medical school, then it would be beneficial to get a variety of healthcare shadowing experience. From hospitals to walk-in clinics, doctors work in a huge number of places, starting early will enable you to do see doctors in action in these places. It also gives you plenty of experiences to talk about in your personal statement and interviews.
Medical Work Experience Opportunities
1. Contact friends and family
Use your contacts! The NHS is one of the biggest employers in the UK, employing around 1.5 million people. It is highly likely that someone within your immediate circle will work within the NHS or have friends or family who do. Don't be afraid to ask if you can shadow them! Shadowing in different parts of the NHS will also allow you to understand the workings of the multidisciplinary team and allow you to have a variety of different experiences.
2. Hospital placement
If you are unable to find any work experience through a friend or family member, my next point of call would be local hospitals. You can find healthcare shadowing opportunities by visiting local hospital websites and finding consultants contact information. Next, you can politely email them explaining that you are applying to medicine and would like to gain medical work experience in their speciality. In my experience, I was pleasantly surprised at how many doctors responded using this method. However, do not be alarmed if you haven’t heard back straight away. Doctors are generally very busy and it may take them some time to reply. Persistence is key, keep trying until you get a response!
Other ways of securing work experience in hospital departments are through work experience programmes and volunteering at a hospital. An example of a hospital that runs a work experience programme is Ealing hospital, London. This link to their website shows that they offer healthcare shadowing opportunities during certain weeks of the year. Furthermore, volunteering opportunities are advertised on the NHS Jobs website or they may be listed on the chosen hospital’s website.
3. Contact GP surgeries
Finding hospital work experience can be extremely difficult and competitive, however, remember that there are a lot more GP surgeries than hospitals and getting work experience at a GP surgery is invaluable. GPs are the guardians of the NHS, seeing and treating the large majority of patients in the community, and referring only a small proportion to the big hospitals.
You can ask your own GP for advice, however, they may not be able to take you on due to confidentiality reasons. Instead, they may be able to guide you towards colleagues in other practices. If this isn’t possible, contact GPs and practice managers in your local area. Be polite and explain what you would like to get out of the experience, and be prepared to accept anything they offer you whether this is admin or shadowing the practice nurse. You never know, whilst filing, the GP may call you into their room to observe a consultation with a patient!
4. Check With Schools /Career Advisors
Many school’s or college’s career advisors will help you to organise your work experience placements. They may even have links with healthcare professionals who have taken past students on work experience.
At theMSAG, we often speak to careers advisors who are keen to help students get into medical school. We understand that arranging medical work experience is a challenge, so if you’re not having any luck within your school, let us know – we can reach out to your careers advisor to offer some help.
As well as healthcare shadowing, medical schools will be expecting you to perform voluntary work. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about different aspects of the medical profession, such as communication, teamwork, commitment, and time-management. All the things that you need to refer to in your personal statement and medical school interviews.
There is an abundance of volunteering opportunities out there. Volunteering opportunities could include helping at a care home, helping your elderly next-door neighbour, working in a charity shop or helping out at a Dementia Cafe. In order to find volunteering opportunities, you can check websites such as ‘do-it.org’ or contact organisations like Good Gym, The British Red Cross, The Alzheimer’s Society or St John Ambulance.
Volunteering is best done regularly over a long period e.g. 1-3 hours a week for 3 - 6 months. This shows commitment and dedication; it also offers plenty of chances to develop experience in all those aspects of being part of a caring profession.
6. Find paid work (e.g. Healthcare Assisting)
If you are interested in gaining some paid experience why not look into working as a healthcare assistant? Many medical applicants work as healthcare assistants in their summer holidays or on their gap years. Working as a healthcare assistant will give you a real insight into life as an NHS employee. Also, you may be able to learn clinical skills such as taking observations and taking blood. This will look very impressive on your personal statement or at an interview!
Vacancies are frequently advertised on the NHS Jobs website or healthjobsuk.com. However, generally the application process is very long due to the processing of references and DBS (Disclosure and Barring services) clearances. If you plan to find work for the summer holidays, I advise applying between Christmas and Easter.
7. Overseas work experience & volunteering
If you are struggling to secure work experience in the UK, why not look at travelling abroad?
Work experience abroad can enable you to understand medicine on a global scale, witnessing first-hand the contrasts between medical care in the Western world and in developing countries. Also, it can give you the opportunity to see rare tropical diseases which may not be present in this part of the world.
There are many organisations out there which offer these work experience placements such as GapMedics, Medical Projects and Global Medical Projects. These organisations offer students the opportunity to shadow doctors in many different specialties in locations such as Thailand, the Caribbean, India and Tanzania. These overseas placements can make your application stand out from the crowd. However, applicants must also remember that it is not essential and universities are aware that many applicants cannot afford to go abroad.
8. Medical summer school
Another great way of obtaining work experience is through medical summer schools. Many universities such as Oxford, UCL and King’s College offer students the option of attending a pre-medical course spanning a number of weeks during their summer holidays. They offer students the opportunity to experience what university life is like and may also give them the opportunity to learn clinical skills such as taking blood pressure, pulse and auscultation of the heart. Also, there may be the opportunity to shadow doctors on the wards and meet patients with chronic illnesses.
Prepare for your future in medicine
I hope now you are more confident in obtaining a work experience placement. It is vital for your medical school application. With growing competition to get into medical school, you must remember to start looking for work experience early. If you know that you want to apply for medicine in 2 years’ time, now is a perfect time to start. Also, do not give up hope if you do not hear back immediately, keep looking elsewhere!