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So, you've decided you want to study medicine, and now you want some advice on how to gain work experience. It's never too early to start preparing; as an aspiring medical student, you will need to secure relevant and meaningful experience that helps to set you apart. This guide will outline the importance of gaining work experience and advise you on where to start.

Understanding the Importance of Work Experience

Work experience is a crucial part of a compelling application. For many, work experience may be your first exposure to a clinical setting, providing you with valuable insights into the realities of working in healthcare. It is a chance to refine your interpersonal and communication skills and witness the complexities of patient care. Work experience is not just a checkbox for your application but demonstrates your readiness and passion for medicine as a career.

In addition, you can draw on your experiences in your personal statement and interview, demonstrating a powerful narrative beyond academic achievements. You will be able to recount situations to illustrate your first-hand experience of healthcare dynamics and patient interactions. Furthermore, reflecting on these experiences will allow you to showcase personal growth, resilience, empathy, teamwork, and effective communication. Concrete examples will demonstrate your genuine passion and commitment to medicine.

Different types of Work Experience

There is a range of relevant work experience that you can do to strengthen your application. Broadly, they can include things like:

  1. Volunteering/working in clinical settings: Most medical schools will require you to have direct exposure to patient care by observing medical professionals, interacting with patients, and acknowledging the realities of working in healthcare.
  2. Research: involvement in medical or scientific research can demonstrate your keenness to further medical knowledge – this could involve taking part in experiments or conducting literature reviews.
  3. Shadowing: observe a physician or other healthcare professional to gain a realistic understanding of the different roles of professionals in healthcare.
  4. Health-related employment: gain some paid experience in healthcare, including working as a phlebotomist, carer, or other healthcare roles.
  5. Teaching and leadership roles: teaching, mentoring or leadership roles within a healthcare setting demonstrate your communication skills, teamwork, and ability to take on responsibilities that are essential qualities in a doctor.
  6. Non-healthcare work with transferable skills: try to think how experiences you have outside of healthcare have developed skills transferable to medicine, such as communication, problem-solving, leadership or teamwork.

While medical schools generally expect you to have some form of work experience directly relevant to medicine, a well-rounded applicant will have a mixture of clinical and non-clinical experiences. This shows you have actively sought diverse opportunities to enrich your understanding of medicine. Additionally, individual medical schools will value different forms of experience; some consider volunteering as valuable as working in a clinical setting, so research your chosen universities and their requirements. Ultimately, the most important thing is your ability to reflect on your experiences and communicate what lessons you've learnt/skills you developed. In this respect, the hours you accumulate are less important than how the meaningful insights you gain; this is undoubtedly a quality-over-quantity situation.

Plan Ahead

To guarantee a diverse portfolio of experience, you must plan well in advance. Certain opportunities will require preparation, such as obtaining a DBS certificate, and others may have lots of competition. Take the time to strategically plan your extracurricular activities and work experience to ensure a well-rounded narrative in your application. We can help you with this within our 1-1 mentoring programme; click here for more information.

Where to start your search

To get started, build a short CV outlining your current experience and any skills you may have. You can then hand this out to various establishments where you'd like to seek work experience. An excellent place to start looking for work experience is to tap into local resources:

  1. Local hospitals and clinics: Contact volunteer departments to inquire about any opportunities for volunteering, shadowing, or internships. This is the best place to get direct exposure to a clinical setting; here, you can witness first-hand the dynamics of patient care, medical practices, procedures, and daily routines of medical professionals. You will gain exposure to a diverse range of medical specialities to help you determine where your interests and passions lie. This is also a great time to begin networking, which can snowball into future opportunities.
  2. Hospice/care homes: Allows you to gain insight into older age care and emphasises a holistic approach to healthcare.
  3. GP surgeries: This will give you some hands-on-experience of primary care. You will witness consultations for varied conditions ranging from routine check-ups to manage chronic conditions. This serves as a foundation for your understanding of preventative care, diagnostics and the collaboration of the primary care team.
  4. Utilise school and university career services: If you're currently a student, your high school or university may have connections with local healthcare organisations or a database of opportunities that can be used to support your quest for work experience.
  5. Network with medical professionals: Build connections by attending local medical conferences and joining seminars or online platforms. It is also helpful to reach out to friends, family or neighbours working in healthcare or a hospital. This can open up opportunities to find meaningful experiences.
  6. Explore local non-profit organisations: these organisations often seek volunteers to support them. Places to start include Red Cross, St John's ambulance, community health clinics or organisations addressing specific health issues.
  7. Utilise online platforms: searching volunteer websites, local community boards, LinkedIn or medical forums may reveal volunteering opportunities.

Volunteering and extracurriculars

In addition to formal work experience, complement your application with volunteering and participation in extracurricular activities. Volunteering demonstrates your dedication to contributing to community health and making a positive impact. Reach out to charities, hospices or organisations focusing on healthcare. Extracurricular activities, especially those focused on healthcare, help to boost your application. Join healthcare-related clubs, participate in medical research projects, or engage in health advocacy initiatives to emphasise your passion for medicine.

It is essential that when you start seeking work experience and extracurriculars, you consider your interests and passions. This is pivotal to make your journey both fulfilling and impactful. A genuine interest in your chosen area fosters enthusiasm and encourages more profound and meaningful learning. Suppose you can find experiences that you genuinely enjoy - this will make the learning experience more gratifying, enhance your motivation and actively seek further learning opportunities. Your passion will also be reflected in the quality of your contributions and allow you to build stronger connections with the team around you. All in all, this will not only boost your personal development but will facilitate you in authentically conveying your passion to strengthen your application.

Reflecting on your work experience is crucial to maximise its value, as it requires thoughtful evaluation of the insights gained, personal growth and challenges you may have faced in a healthcare setting. You can use this to identify any new skills you've developed that will make you the ideal candidate to begin your medical studies.

For more information and advice regarding your medical school application, you can find our other blogs here.

Written by Ellie Millard.
Future Doc