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Value of Work Experience Before Applying to Medical School

Discover the value of work experience before applying to medical school.
Surgical theatre with people in blue gowns operating
© University of Glasgow, 2020

Gaining work experience in a healthcare setting is a great way to test whether you really want a career in medicine and it is an addition to your CV that is valued by all universities. In addition, it will provide interesting experiences with patients, about which you can talk when you (hopefully!) get invited for an interview at a Medical School.

However, it is not easy to get medical work experience, especially if you are from a small community and the local GP you approached thinks that it’s not a good idea, for instance, for confidentiality reasons. Doctors have a duty to keep the medical information of their patients confidential and the patients you would be privileged to assist at the practice might know you and may not feel comfortable sharing the stories of their health conditions with you. Even if you happen to know about a local hospital work experience scheme, it is likely that the places are limited as demand often outnumbers supply and the hospitals simply don’t have the space for many trainees!

To address this problem, in 2015 medical students from Edinburgh and Glasgow started a fantastic venture called MedicInsight. It is a partnership between NHS Scotland and senior medical students, which offers a 2–3-day work experience in various hospitals across Scotland. MedicInsight works with pupils in S5 (penultimate year of secondary schooling in Scotland) and organises free workshops on the application process, on writing a personal statement, as well as interview training for all attendees.

Another opportunity is Gap Medics – a great portal that provides inspirational hospital shadowing opportunities globally and since its inception almost 10 years ago the organisation claims to have helped thousands of aspiring students to gain experience on their journeys to medical school. It must be noted however that it is a fee-paying service.

Even though the medical schools know how hard it is to get work experience in a hospital, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, or look for other opportunities – care homes are great alternatives, as is working with vulnerable adults or with children with additional support needs. Both can demonstrate your caring nature and capacity to empathise with others. Other options to consider are working with the Red Cross, working for various charities/overseas agencies or working for a homeless shelter.

Taking initiative is the key when finding volunteer and shadowing opportunities. You will need to approach as many places as possible and simply enquire if they would be willing to accept your help in a temporary role. The benefits of your efforts become obvious when you start writing your personal statement and when you talk about your experience with the interviewers, showing your achievements in the best possible light. Remember, you have to convince the interviewers of your enthusiasm, capabilities, and resourcefulness – so what better way to show this than being creative about your work experience?

Unfortunately, as the NHS is focusing on dealing with the global pandemic, it is unlikely to be even more difficult to gain any clinical work experience currently and the NHS will have a lot of work to do to get back to ‘business as usual’. The thing to remember is that you will not be alone and the interviewers will be sympathetic to the situation the applicants find themselves in this year. In addition, the Medical Schools Council’s guidance on relevant experience for applying to medical school states that ‘work experience is any activity or life experience that helps you to prepare for medical school and there are no rules on hours or locations’, so any activity that will allow you to demonstrate a people-focussed experience, the development of values, attributes and skills, and a realistic understanding of medicine will be hugely valuable.

Clearly there are lots of ways that you can still demonstrate that you have an understanding what the life of a doctor is; this guidance document will help you fill the gap. Advice includes: creating reflective diaries of the current situation with COVID-19, using free online resources available from RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners) or Brighton/Sussex medical school on what working in healthcare is all about; volunteering with people who are ill, disabled, or disadvantaged – all will offer you a great opportunity to understand a career in medicine.

© University of Glasgow, 2020
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