How to include work experience in personal statement?
Personal statements · September 02, 2019 Dr Ella Quintela
Dr Ella Quintela is a junior doctor in West Yorkshire. She studied at the University of Nottingham and is a content writer and personal statement coach for theMSAG.
Some say that in life ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. Whilst that might not be the best thing in all situations, it definitely applies in the case of work experience. And where better to flaunt your hard-earned work experience than in your personal statement?
Work experience has become such an integral part of the university application that you probably wouldn’t even consider applying without it. But once you’re done, got it under your belt and moved on, how do you showcase this in your personal statement in order to get you one step closer to your career goal? This is actually a very good question and different people will tell you different things. Some people may tell you to dedicate a whole paragraph of your statement just to this, simply listing how much you have done and how long you have done it for.
theMSAG Top Tip: Don’t do this.
Here at theMSAG, we have a clear structure and formula of how to include your work experience in your writing to highlight the skills gained in the best way possible. For more advice on other aspects of the personal statement, check out our blog series on the topic.
Whether you’re a school leaver, taking a gap year or have one (or several) degrees under your belt, completing work experience has become a crucial part of applying to study medicine, with some medical schools wanting to know exactly how many days were spent at each placement. With all these specifications on type and length of experience, it’s often easy to lose sight of the point of actually shadowing doctors. That is to find out a little bit more about the fast-paced life as a doctor, decide whether you like it enough to commit to it and if you have the makings of a doctor in you. Therefore, when it comes to talking about your work experience, either within your personal statement or at interview, it’s always worth coming back to this most basic reason.
What you see is what you get… or is it?
During a typical work experience placement, you get an insight into the world of medicine through observing:
- Patient histories and examinations
- Diagnostic tests, such as scans or blood tests
- Decisions about a patient’s treatment, which can be either done as a doctor on their own or in larger team meetings
- Surgical procedures and operations
- Doctors working together
- Doctors interacting with patients
- Doctors working with other members of the multidisciplinary team, such as nurses and physiotherapists
The list goes on and on…
So this is great. You’ve got the work experience but how do you talk about it? Funnily enough, this is actually something that many students struggle with. How do you go about including the laundry list of experiences that you’ve completed during the summer before applying in your personal statement? You only have 4000 characters, how do you use them effectively to convey the wealth of experience that you’ve gained, whilst showing off your extra reading and other achievements?
Admittedly, it will make for quite boring reading if you simply spent 4000 characters providing a job description with a list of all the things you’ve seen at placement. More than this though, it wouldn’t tell the admissions tutor much at all about what you’ve learned from those experiences and how you’ve subsequently developed your application to medical school. Furthermore, whether you’ve done a two-week placement or have years of experience, it’s more important to show insight into what you’ve learned than to focus on the length.
Insight into the qualities a doctor should possessAfter observing doctors and other members of the team, you start to pick up on some of the qualities a good doctor should possess, as mentioned above. Here are a few examples you could talk about:
- Good communication skills
- Good teamwork skills
The key part of integrating your work experience is your reflection on it. This is to say that you have observed something on work experience, e.g. an interaction between a doctor and a patient, thought specifically about that event and the specific skills demonstrated by the doctor and considered why this is important in medicine. It is always important to link your work experiences to the key skills of a doctor as outlined by the GMC’s Duties of a Doctor Guideline. Thinking about your work experiences in this context shows that you are aware of the expectations of the modern doctor and that you are actively developing the necessary skills.
Ok, that’s a lot to take on, so let’s use an example to make things a bit clearer.
“I learned about the importance of leadership while shadowing an A&E consultant at Southampton General Hospital. On one occasion, a serious case suddenly emerged and the whole team was called to action. Upon arriving at the scene, the consultant quickly assessed the situation and called a very quick meeting with everyone present. He listened to everyone’s opinion in the team regarding how to proceed, facilitating the meeting, so that everyone was heard. He then summarised the points, formed a quick plan of action from and effectively delegated roles in an efficient manner. In this way, everyone was confident in the plan and their roles, leading to the successful treatment of the patient.”
Right, now let’s break it down:
- Overarching skill: leadership
- Specific skills:
- Facilitation of discussion
- Effective communication
This level of reflection and thought shows that you have not just attended the work experience for the sake of being able to tick a box or to have something to write about in your personal statement, but also that you have learned something essential about the profession and what is expected.
theMSAG Top Tip: Take notice of how I used a SPECIFIC example there. We spoke about a precise time and event to help highlight these transferable skills. We strongly suggest that you implement this, as it helps you to be specific. Also, thinking about and analysing a specific event is often much easier than a general experience over a longer time.
Observations about a career in medicine
Think back to your work experience. What does it show you about what a career in medicine would be like? See if you can answer some of the questions below with your experiences:
- What are the good things about being a doctor?
- What are some of the pressures that doctors face?
- What is the training like for someone wanting to specialise in surgery or general practice?
- How does a Junior Doctor working at a hospital spend their day?
- How do doctors in a GP practice, hospital or care home spend their day?
These questions are easily answered after observing a clinical environment and speaking to some of the staff working there. Commenting on some of these aspects in your personal statement will demonstrate that you have some insight on what life is like as a doctor and shows that you have a realistic understanding about the profession. Within your personal statement, you can use your experiences at placement as an example of your knowledge. For example, whilst at work experience at your GP practice, you may have noticed that they are limited to 10-minute slots to see patients. Therefore, when it comes to talking about some of the challenges that doctors face, you can first mention the importance of time management in medicine and use this example to further your point.
While it is important to highlight all the positives of a career in medicine in your personal statement, it is also great to talk about some of the harder aspects. I know what you’re thinking - that’s slightly counter-intuitive. Why on earth would you talk about the worst parts of the job when you’re applying for this career path? Well, this actually shows a great amount of maturity and understanding about the profession and nailing this part of the statement could actually help you stand out from the crowd! By talking about this in detail, you show that you are aware that this isn’t an easy profession, but you are still dedicated to it. The icing on the cake is then the talk about how you are equipped to deal with these problems.
For example, you could talk about the high stress levels that you observed while on work experience. If you then go on to talk about how you currently deal with stress in your day-to-day life such as playing a sport or a musical instrument, you are showing that you are aware of a real problem in medicine and equipped to deal with it! With this proven track record of success, you’d be ticking boxes left, right and centre.