Medical Work Experience – the key to showing you understand and are passionate about healthcare in your medical application.
BUT WHY DO SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE IN A HIERARCHY OF MEDICAL WORK EXPERIENCE?
This is a well-meaning but often misleading idea whereby some people believe that certain kinds of work experience, such as shadowing in a hospital, are more applicable to medical school applications than others.
This idea of a hierarchy of medical work experience can be unhelpful for people looking to study Medicine, as it can stop people from pursuing useful opportunities which would strengthen their application.
Unless you are fortunate enough to have a family member or family friend who is a doctor at a local hospital, many of you will struggle to organise hospital based placements. But, do not despair, there are many other types of work experience that you can organise to discuss in your personal statement. Here’s a quick guide to the hierarchy of work experience and what you can gain from each type.
Which kinds of work experience are appropriate?
The key thing to remember with medical work experience is that Medicine is fundamentally about people. Therefore, anything where you work with people can count towards your application.
Shadowing is, of course, very valuable. It allows you to see exactly what a doctor’s work entails, and it can give you a clear idea of a doctor’s day-to-day work. It is key to remember that many experiences involving shadowing, GP surgeries or hospitals tend to be short. It’s why additional experiences in care homes and pharmacy placements as mentioned below are also of equal value.
This is the type of work experience that every wannabe medical student dreams of. Going to a hospital to attend ward rounds, clinics and operating theatres is what everyone thinks of when they describe medical work experience. Many think this is the most valuable type of work experience and it should be the one you try the most to get. You are able to see numerous patients, talk to doctors about the profession and learn some basic medical sciences – all great things to discuss in your personal statement.
Of similar value to hospital placements, GP surgeries are often also a great place to get your work experience. These have the same benefits as hospital placements with regards to seeing patients, hearing about the NHS from doctors and gaining a greater understanding of how the systems link together. However, it can be difficult to see patients at GP placements and some GP surgeries are apprehensive to allow students in during consultations. But, you can still help out and see how a GP surgery runs without seeing patients – this is still a valuable experience.
Physiotherapy placements and Pharmacy placements
These are definitely not as valuable as the above placements, but can still be useful, especially if you are struggling to get others. These placements are often a great experience to hear about patients’ stories and how they are coping with their illnesses. Physiotherapy placements can be a great chance to learn about patients’ experiences of their injuries and the effect these have on their lives. Pharmacy placements can be a chance to talk to people collecting their prescriptions and learn about the common drugs and their actions from pharmacists. However, I feel that a day or two of these placements is enough time to see how these aspects of the healthcare system function.
Nursing Home Volunteer Work
These are great longer-term placements to experience a large aspect of the healthcare system. You can talk to people, hear about their experiences and gain a greater understanding of how social care functions in parallel with the hospital and GP care. This is a great placement to give up an hour of two a week to volunteer at a nursing home to talk to residents and play cards or board games with them. It also shows you have the necessary compassion of a future doctor – something that is very hard to believably convey in a personal statement. Showing a sustained interest in working with people, especially those who are vulnerable, can do your application just as much good as observing a surgeon, even if being in a hospital seems more immediately relevant.
*Note – the Medical Schools Council states that working in catering or customer service qualifies as relevant experience, because it involves interacting with people, patience and teamwork.*
The most important thing is to focus on your own personal growth, and not to worry!
Do not be intimidated by people on forums or people you meet at interview who claim to have observed major surgeries or completed difficult placements overseas.
Remember that there is no such thing as a hierarchy of medical work experience, and someone who can speak meaningfully about their experiences will always prevail over someone who just lists a series of impressive-sounding placements.
Focus on what you gained from completing a placement, how it enriched your experience and why it made you want to do Medicine – you can’t go wrong from there!
So, there you have it, a quick rundown of the different types of medical work experience that are worth discussing in your personal statement.
Try to organise as many of these as you can, spend time talking to patients/residents and reflect on them in your personal statement. Best of luck everyone!