Gaining work experience here and abroad
Medical schools will be looking for some evidence of voluntary work or work experience that is related to medicine and health. Indeed, this is often a fundamental way to demonstrate your commitment to becoming a doctor and your desire to learn more about the medical profession. Therefore, it is a great idea to think about the type of work, paid or unpaid, that you could do either during term time or over your summer holidays. Whatever you decide to do, apply early as there will be many other students thinking about the same options. This might also give you the time to experience more than one environment throughout the year.
Types of experiences
Your personal statement, which forms part of the UCAS application when applying to medical school, is the ideal place to describe your work and voluntary experiences. It will also be discussed at your selection interview, so it is important to be honest and open about what you have done and learnt. Direct experience in a hospital setting is of course the gold standard, however it is not always practical to find a placement within the NHS hospital system. What is essential, however, is that you immerse yourself in a health and social care environment, so that you gain experience working alongside medical professionals and patients. This could be, for example, in a hospice, a residential care home, domestic care placement or nursing home. Work experience in youth clubs, specialist schools and pharmacies are also valuable options. Don’t forget to be as active as possible in your healthcare environment, asking questions and volunteering to carry out tasks where appropriate. You could even ask for feedback to help with your learning and development.
Some students opt to undertake hospital work experience abroad. This is certainly another great opportunity, as the experience does not have to be based in the UK. Placements in hospitals overseas can be arranged by reputable companies (such as www.medicalprojects.co.uk) to ensure you are provided with travel advice, accommodation and assistance. Shadowing doctors and medical staff overseas will really make your application stand out from the crowd, showing your ability to be independent and able to immerse yourself in a new environment.
Why gain experience?
This is not just to show you have taken initiative and worked with medical professionals. A whole range of behavioural and mental attributes can be demonstrated based on the experiences you have gained. Take some time out to reflect on what you have learnt, the challenges you have overcome, and how the experience has changed you. Medical schools want to see you have commitment, perseverance, integrity, concern for others and the ability to communicate. All of these, and more, can be demonstrated through your placements. A final piece of advice is to make a note of your personal learning during the time of your work or voluntary placement, as you may forget all your valuable experience by the time you come to write your personal statement!