for finding and getting the most out of your
Work experience – where do I start?
It is hard to find work experience. You almost want to take anything. So what is the best way to get through it.
Our top tips for finding work experience
Work experience can be a lot harder for those of us who do not have any medical contacts. Looking back and knowing what I know now, here are some top tips on work experience and applying to medicine:
Wake up early!
You can never have too much work experience and once you’ve decided on a career in medicine, act fast.
Unfortunately, it can take some time before GP surgeries and hospitals get back to you, so start emailing and writing letters to everyone and anyone you can think of! This is one of the things I wished I had done differently when I applied.
You need to have done your work experience before your interview. Generally, most places only accept students over 16 yrs, leaving a small window to get the work experience organized and done. Make sure you’ve your CV and a cover letter ready explaining why you are interested in a career in medicine. Research all your local hospitals, care homes, hospices and GP surgeries in the area. Write to them or email them. You can often find email addresses on their website. With GP surgeries, you can even go in and drop off your CV and a cover letter in person.
Some hospitals have work experience programs students can apply to directly. Make sure you keep a look out for these too! You can also write to local care homes and charities on a voluntary basis to get some real hands-on experience. Often that’s more valuable and will teach you a lot more!
Try and get work experience that shows you are committed to the job. Again, as good as 1 week shadowing in a hospital may be, it doesn’t beat 2-3 hours a week volunteering at a charity for 6 months. This shows you have the time management skills to be able to focus on your studies and take part in activities outside of work. It is also evidence of a caring experience rather than observation only.
I volunteered in a mental health charity for students over the course of 9 months which I found very rewarding and challenging. It gave me a great insight into the struggles that people face and how these charities help them. It helped me understand that medicine wasn’t just about taking tablets and operations. It’s about talking and listening too. I remember it being very draining at times but demonstrates to the university your resilience and commitment.
The other form of work experience I did was volunteering at the local hospital and feeding stroke patients their dinner. This gave me hands on experience with patients, interaction with the nurses and physiotherapists and how they all work together in order to get patients back to health. It was very rewarding as these rehabilitation wards often had patients who stayed a long time. You would see the improvements week-on-week and become part of the team.
It’s the day of the work experience, what do I need to do
Reflection. It is not what you did, it is what you learnt
Reflection is a big part of medical training and so it’s important you can demonstrate this in interviews. You might have spent a week shadowing brain surgery and attending ward rounds everyday but if you didn’t learn anything from it, it’s not much use.
Often it’s the work experience where you can be more hands-on such as volunteering and speaking to patients where you gain the most experience and insight.
If you come back from a day of work experience and feel happy, sad, inspired or upset – just try and think, what makes you feel like this? What have you learnt from your day about how services run, how people work together? Were you surprised about how the healthcare system works? What skills have you demonstrated from your work experience or volunteering? This is exactly what the interviewers want to hear about and less about what you did everyday.
Keep a log.
Make sure you keep a record of everything you did during your work experience and what you learnt from it! You’ve gone to all the effort of finding and organizing it, so you want to get the best from it! As long as you keep all data confidential and ask permission, there’s no reason you couldn’t keep a note of patients you see during your time. Reflect on your work experience and find evidence of all the key skills needed for a career in medicine.
Hopefully all these top tips help you get the work experience you need and how to make the most of it. As you know, during the pandemic there have been lots of online resources to kick start your work experience, so here are some of the ones I’ve come across so far:
- BSMS Virtual Work Experience – https://bsmsoutreach.thinkific.com/courses/VWE
- Observe GP Virtual Work Experience – https://www.rcgp.org.uk/training-exams/discover-general-practice/observe-gp.aspx
- Patient journey to GP practice – virtual reality app – https://www.gmc-uk.org/about/what-we-do-and-why/learning-and-support/e-learning-resources/patient-journey-to-gp-practice
Hiyos Helpers – NHS volunteering
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