Updated: Jun 28, 2020
When applying to medicine, everyone knows that obtaining work experience is extremely important. What work experience you do does not actually matter as much as what you learnt from it.
However, one of the challenges I found when I was under 18 years old was obtaining clinical work experience – which is ultimately the closest experience you can get to learn what a doctor does. This includes work experience placements at a hospital, General Practice (GP), hospice or care home. In this post I will share some of the alternative (‘non-clinical’) things I did when I was under 18 to accumulate work experience and how I went about securing hospital placements.
Non-clinical work experience/extra-curricular
Starting early is the best way to gain lots of experience in the run-up to your medical school application. There are lots of charities and organisations that are keen to take on anyone willing to volunteer.
I volunteered as Community Advocate for St. John’s Ambulance. More of their volunteering roles can be found here.
My role was to raise awareness of the importance of first aid within my local area. This mainly included running workshops for cadets & scouts and going into schools to teach children about CPR/responding to emergencies.
I also volunteered for PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) Charity Shop. My role was to put items out on the shop floor, work at the cashier and speak to customers. Customer-facing roles give you lots of transferable skills to Medicine.
Organisations such as Alzheimer’s Society have initiatives like Dementia Friends. These charitable organisation host events like coffee mornings with elderly people diagnosed with these conditions and their families and friends are invited to attend too. This is the perfect time to get some exposure to patients and make a positive contribution in your community. Fun runs, bake sales and lots of other fundraising events are also a chance for you to raise awareness and money for projects that you are particularly passionate about which will inevitably make you stand out for your medical school application.
Doing an EPQ
Undertaking an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) during Sixth Form allows you to produce a university-level project that is then marked and accumulates UCAS points. There are many topics to choose from and this is an amazing opportunity to get ahead! You will have a university tutor and familiarise yourself with the standard of work that will be expected of you in higher education. More advice on whether an EPQ may be for you can be found here.
The National Citizenship Programme (NCS)
Designed specially for 16 and 17 year olds, the NCS experience will give you a clearer idea of what you want from your future. I have been a participant and a mentor for NCS. It is a 3-week programme during which participants are encouraged to venture outside of their comfort zone – in the first week, you’ll take part in lots of fun activities such as abseiling and canoeing and the following weeks focus on making a difference in your communities. You’ll mix with a new crowd and take on fresh challenges together. Along the way, you’ll also get a taste for independence and pick up skills that will help you reach your future goals. NCS also gives you a platform to have your voice heard and Working with vulnerable individuals e.g. disabled, children, elderly
For one of my work experience placements in Year 10 (when I was 14-15 years old), I volunteered with MenCap for 2 weeks. MenCap is a charity that works with people with a learning disability. They provide a range of services from round-the-clock care to helping someone join in with local leisure activities, providing advice and information on things like employment and education, helping someone to live independently for the first time, and even things like reporting a crime to the police. I helped some of the young adults who attended my local MenCap leisure centre with personal care and participated in activities with them. You can also apply for work experience at nurseries or elderly care homes/events. These provide transferable skills to medicine such as: adapting your communication to suit a variety of audiences, working as part of a team and demonstrating compassion and kindness for those more vulnerable than yourself.
Clinical work experience:
To undertake a work experience placement at a hospital, you must have a look at your local hospital’s website. The NHS Trust that your hospital is part of will have information displayed on their webpages on how to apply. It is important that you have a CV ready and a cover letter (approximately 1 page long) on why you would like the placement. I attach a copy of the work experience letter template that I used here.
If you cannot locate information online about work experiences in your Trust, try to look up different departments and note down their numbers or email addresses. You can then ring up and enquire about undertaking some work experience or email the Ward Manager (who will usually be a nurse) or a consultant. During your hospital work experience, you will most likely shadow a doctor and learn about their day-to-day activities. This may include ward rounds, sitting in on clinics and if you’re lucky, you may even learn some clinical skills like taking blood pressures!
A hospice is a place for palliative care – this is where patients come for end-of-life care. Being a volunteer or work experience student at a hospice is a very heart-warming experience. It can make such a difference to have the right support for the difficult questions and concerns patients’ loved ones might have. It’s also a place where everyone – from the housekeeping staff and volunteers to the nurses and medical team – always has a lovely smile on their face. You can contact your local hospice to offer to be a volunteer or check if they require any. You can also reach out to a palliative care physician and ask to shadow them. Please approach hospices in a sensitive manner.
Volunteering at a care home will give you a very realistic expectation of what hospital care is like, since the UK has an ageing population. The best way to find out if a care home needs volunteers is by ringing their telephone number and politely enquiring. They may ask you to complete an Induction with some formal training beforehand.
Overall, the most important part of work experience is reflecting on it! Make sure you keep a small logbook or journal and even type up your notes. You can even sign up for an online portfolio on Medic Portal.