🤔 What Counts as Work Experience in Medicine?
There is a common misconception that clinical work experience (in a hospital) is necessary to apply for medicine. It isn’t. Anything that gives you an insight into the realities of being a doctor counts as work experience. This includes, but is not limited to:
- shadowing hospital doctors on the wards
- shadowing a GP at a GP surgery
- working as a healthcare assistant
- volunteering at a care home, hospice, St John’s ambulance, pharmacy or any other health and social care setting
- working as a lifeguard
Below you’ll find guidance on how to organise each type of medicine work experience, valuable resources to help you with the process and the pros and cons of each one:
🔍 How to get Medicine Work Experience in 2023:
How do you get medicine work experience, naturally depends on the form you choose. Medical schools are aware of how challenging is it to organise traditional, shadowing work experience in a hospital or GP practice and that not everybody will have the chance to experience it.
Therefore, you’d best bet on and try multiple types of work experience. The more varied work experience you get, the more comprehensive picture of what it means to be a doctor you’ll get.
🏥 Arranging in-person Hospital Work Experience (2023):
If you’d like to get traditional work experience in a hospital or GP expect the journey to be long and ridden with rejections. However, trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Start by reaching out to your closes ones - friends, family, parents’ friends, friends' parents, teachers at your school, even neighbours. If anyone you know works in a healthcare setting (not only as a doctor) ask them politely if you could shadow them at a time convenient for them. Convince them by explaining your reasoning and demonstrating how passionate you are about studying medicine. Tell them how you’d like to see first-hand if the medicine is right for you. At the same time, be understanding and courteous if they decline (sometimes it may be against the policy of their workplace).
📚 Resources: If you cannot find anyone working in healthcare among your acquaintances, reach out directly to hospitals. Here’s a map of UK hospitals accepting students for work experience. Find a few hospitals around where you live and contact them or doctors that work there directly. Try every approach you can; email, phone, in-person visit. Expect it to take you a bit of digging and effort, but don’t give up until you’ve run out of options.
🚀 TOP Tip: Prepare before reaching out. Taking you on for shadowing is a favour that a doctor isn’t obligated to do. Therefore, you need to show you are worthy of their time and energy. Prepare a short CV, attach it when sending emails and write a few words about your passion for medicine. Be specific. Some doctors may want to have a brief interview-like conversation before they take you onboard, so make sure you can talk about what interest you in medicine, why you’d like to get work experience with them and the like.
👍 Pros of Hospital Work Experience:
- most immersive
- closest to the reality of being a doctor
- opportunity to talk to various healthcare professionals and medical students
👎 Cons of Hospital Work Experience:
- doctors may be in a rush and have little time to devote to you
- challenging to arrange, especially in 2022 in times of Covid-19
- what you are exposed to depends largely on luck
- difficult to get an insight into a range of specialities
- spending only a few days may not be enough to notice and feel the more challenging, gloomier side of medicine
✋ Arranging In-person and Online Volunteering (2023):
Volunteering is an equally fantastic way to learn about medicine. Some of the places you could volunteer in include: care homes, hospice, nursery, St John's Ambulance, pharmacy, charities related to health and care and many others. As long as you can explain how it has given you insight into a part of medicine, it can count towards your medicine work experience.
- Think about what would interest you the most and what’s available around you. Visit websites of all the places you’d see yourself volunteering in and look for a section for volunteers.
- If it’s not there, give them a call and ask politely if you could come, for instance once a week for an hour to help them. Tell them what specifically you could help with, as well as a bit about yourself and your interest in medicine.
- Stay persistent. Don’t give up if you get turned down. Don’t give up when you turn up a few times and don’t like working there - it may be a valuable learning experience and can help you find out if being a doctor is actually for you.
📚 Resources: Here are a few websites that can help you find a volunteering placement in a medical setting: DO IT, ageuk.org.uk, reengage.org.uk, royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk.
🦠 Covid-19 Update: Arranging volunteering work experience in medicine used to be easier than finding hospital work experience, but this has changed in times of Covid. Some places like care homes or hospices may not be willing to take on extra people from the outside. However, contacting them won’t do any harm. Worst case scenario, they’ll say no and you’ll have to move on.
👍 Pros of Volunteering:
- opportunity to work in a medical setting for a longer time and get a better grasp of the clinical environment
- working consistently for extended periods shows commitment, which is impressive and valued by admissions tutors
- allows you to explore alternatives to being a doctor
- allows you to work on your clinically-relevant interpersonal skills, such as empathy, communication and teamwork
- many opportunities to get actively involved and take the incentive
- a meaningful contribution to the society
👎 Cons of Volunteering:
- not always directly related to medicine and doesn’t always show exactly what it feels like working at a GP surgery or in a hospital
- you may be required to be over 16 or 18 years old
🖥️ Arranging Online Medicine Work Experience (2023):
Arranging online work experience in medicine is a piece of cake, especially if you are below 16. There are plenty of free resources out there, where the only obstacle is registering with your email.
Here are a few fantastic websites with online medicine work experience to check out (all of the below resources are formally considered by Medical School’s Council as “medicine work experience”):
- Observe GP: a free, innovative and interactive video platform giving you an insight into the role of General Practitioners in the UK. Created by the Royal College of GPs and supported by Medical Schools Council.
- BSMS Online Work Experience: Free, interactive work experience platform created by Brighton and Sussex Medical School featuring videos, presentations, articles and quizzes, all about working as a doctor in the NHS. Through BSMS Online Work Experience you get to explore a variety of medical specialities including GP, elderly medicine, surgery, emergency medicine and mental health. It also includes many activities and information that will help you prepare for your medical school interviews.
- Patient journey to GP practice - virtual reality app allowing you to visit a GP from a patient’s point of view. Created by the GMC and NHS England.
👍 Pros of Online Medicine Work Experience:
- Possible to undertake even if you are under 16
- You set the pace, can pause, take notes and reflect more thoroughly
- You can go back and refresh your memory of it right before your interviews
- You’re independent of external circumstances (such as Covid-19)
- Chance to explore an entire spectrum of medical specialities, as well as many aspects of being a doctor
👎 Cons of Online Medicine Work Experience:
- You don’t get to interact with patients and doctors directly
- No chance to work on and develop clinically-valuable interpersonal skills like communication, empathy or teamwork
🚀 TOP Tip: Don’t fall for the common misconception that online medicine work experience is less valuable or less favoured by admissions officers than hospital work experience. Medical schools acknowledge how difficult it is to organise hospital work experience, especially in times of Covid-19. Moreover, it’s not about what you do and see. It's all about how you reflect on it. If the only work experience in medicine you have is online, there is no need to worry. Just make sure you make the best of it and demonstrate reflections in your personal statement and in your interviews.
📖 Other resources that qualify as Medicine Work Experience (2023):
There are plenty of other resources, which may not qualify as work experience by the strict definition, but still, give you valuable insight into the realities of being a medic. These include:
- Vlogs and Blogs: You’ve probably came across “A day in the life of insert speciality doctor” videos and blogs. If not, google it! What an entertaining way to learn about being a doctor it is! Caveat: Treat those with a pinch of salt - what’s shown online tends to be more glamorous than the normal day-to-day.
- BBC Health: Following the latest healthcare news can give you an insight into the most current challenges that doctors face.
- Medical Memoire: Imagine exploring a doctor’s entire career within a matter of a few hours. That’s what medical memories give you - an insight into the day-to-day and reflections of some of the greatest doctors in the world. Even if you aren’t a book worm, give it a try and maybe you’ll fall in love with books (worked for me). Here’s a list of some of the best ones out there.
- Discussion: If you don’t get the chance to observe a doctor in action during a hospital work experience, why not talk to them about it? If any of your parents’ friends or friends’ parents happen to be a doctor try asking them if they could tell you in more detail about their work as a doctor by a coffee or two. Don’t forget to explain why you’d like to talk to them and thank them afterwards with a little gift.
- GMC’s Good Medical Practice: What it means to be a good doctor? This broad topic is succinctly explored in the above document. GMC’s Good Medical Practice is an excellent insight into the responsibilities of a doctor and a handy document for your UCAT SJT and medicine interviews.
- Don’t limit yourself to just one type of medicine work experience - having varied experiences with medicine can give you a more comprehensive picture.
- Begin looking for in-person work experience as early as you can - as early as year 10 or year 11. Organising hospital work experience and volunteering will take numerous rejections, paperwork and more time than you think.
- Stay persistent in trying to organise in-person, traditional medicine work experience, but don’t be disheartened if you aren’t able to. Hospital medicine work experience isn’t a requirement and lacking it won’t put you at a disadvantage.
- Learn how to talk about your work experience on your medical school interviews with Medfully - the best tool for medicine interview preparation.