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Work experience

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Medical schools require applicants to have an understanding of what a career in medicine involves. It is therefore essential that applicants gain people-focused experience of providing care or service before submitting their application.

There are two basic types of experience that applicants can have:

  1. Working with other people in a caring or service role, and in particular with people who are ill, disabled or disadvantaged. (Strongly recommended)
  2. Direct observation of healthcare.

It is important to remember that work experience can take many forms. It can be a voluntary opportunity or a paid job. While shadowing a doctor can be useful, medical schools recognise that this is not attainable for everyone. They see volunteering in a residential care home as just as good a source of experience. If you have a weekend job in a shop, then this can be a good source of experience too.

Reflect on your experience

The important thing to remember is that work experience is only as valuable as the way you talk about it in your interview. While you will be expected to show some understanding of what it is like to be a doctor, part of this will be showing that you know what it is like to work, particularly with the public. Just like in a normal job interview you may be asked things like, ‘Can you provide an example of how you have worked as part of a team?’ If you have had a job in a restaurant, for instance, then you will be able to use this experience to answer the question.

Where to start

To get work experience, prepare a short CV and hand this in to places in your area which relate to healthcare, saying that you are willing to volunteer. These places could be care homes, hospices, general practice surgeries, and of course hospitals. If you have no luck with this then do not worry.

Other useful activities might include reading medical journals or following news about the National Health Service. These things will emphasise an interest in a medical career and willingness to research. If you know any doctors or can talk to your GP then arranging time to speak with one will provide you with material to use in the interview, as well as demonstrate motivation and initiative. All healthcare professionals can be a valuable source of information and experience, not just doctors. After all, doctors work as part of large teams involving many healthcare professions, so demonstrating that you have a sense of those professions and how they work together will help you in both your personal statement and interview.

It is important to remember that your experiences are only as good as how you reflect on them in your personal statement and at interview. The ability to reflect on what you have learnt, both about yourself and about medicine, through your experiences is the key thing medical schools are looking for when they assess your application.

Gaining relevant experience during the Covid-19 pandemic

Medical schools recognise that it is a difficult time to try and gain relevant experience in healthcare. In these circumstances, applicants to medicine will all be in the same situation. Medical schools are aware that the opportunities open to you have been affected and will take this into account. Please read our guidance on gaining relevant experience during the Covid-19 pandemic for more information.

Practical ways to gain experience

Keep a reflective diary on what is happening in the news and online

Many healthcare professionals are posting online about their experience of working during the pandemic. Listen to what they have to say and reflect on this. All healthcare professionals can be a valuable source of information and experience, not just doctors. After all, doctors work as part of large teams involving many healthcare professions, so demonstrating that you have a sense of those professions and how they work together will help you in both your personal statement and interview. Remember that some media sources are more reliable than others and that sometimes ‘political spin’ is put on articles to help create a headline.

Make use of online resources

There are some free online resources available that will give you a taste of what working in healthcare is all about. For example:

• Brighton and Sussex Medical School has created a free virtual work experience course which explores several different medical specialities

• RCGP has also created an interactive platform called Observe GP which highlights the many different aspects of working in primary care

Volunteer in your spare time

All forms of voluntary work can provide helpful work experience. While volunteer work in the NHS might be disrupted at this time other schemes may still be in operation and worth exploring.

Useful volunteering websites may include, but are not limited to:

• The Do IT website

• The Nextdoor website

Make sure to check the medical school’s website for updates on work experience. Additionally, keep in mind that clinical work experience is not generally a requirement for applying to medical school in any year.

 Further reading

Virtual work experience

These courses have been recognised by medical schools as a suitable element of relevant experience to help prepare an application to medicine.