Assuming you have passed your GCSEs and A levels with flying colours, you’re probably eagerly waiting to be enrolled in a medicine degree. Then you came across something called ‘work experience’ during your applications. Now you’re left wondering how relevant this is and how you could possibly get involved, especially with multiple restrictions and lockdowns in place. Fret not, as you read along, things will get clearer in picture.
Why is work experience important?
Simply put, work experience is any notable activity that helps you learn more about a career in medicine. Generally, medical schools will have a strong preference for applicants who have shown a motivated and reflective understanding of a medical career. Thus, it is wise for the candidates to prepare themselves with relevant experiences in healthcare. In addition to learning about the daily activities of a doctor in various settings, you can also use your work experience to further delve into diagnoses that you see. Academia aside, this invaluable experience can also help you to gauge how passionate you are in the medicine field, after seeing the mechanics of the profession.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ― Confucius.
Opportunities Pre-COVID vs NOW
Traditionally, applicants can have two basic types of experience (not exclusive):
- Taking care of people who are ill, disabled or disadvantaged in the community. https://volunteering.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/student-volunteering
- Volunteering in humanity programmes, first aid groups, scouts etc.
- Participating in healthcare-related workshops.
- Direct observation
- Shadowing doctors e.g. GPs, specialists during consultations or ward rounds (assisting nurses and other health allies are equally useful)
- Observing clinical procedures
- The medical schools appreciate that this might not be feasible for everyone and if you can’t access opportunities in these settings, a part-time job usually suffices. Medical schools care about WHAT you learnt, not necessarily WHERE you learnt it; they want to know what knowledge or skills you have attained from your involvement and how will those benefit you in the future rather than the number or fancifulness of your job. Try a variety and see what suits you! Transferable skills can be found anywhere!
With limited face-to-face interactions allowed in this pandemic, things have changed a bit but the idea remains the same. It may be difficult to get into real clinical or community settings for the time-being, but if you do manage to get the practical experience, that’s great. However, medical school admissions offices are aware of the global difficulties applicants are facing and will therefore not penalize you for not showing medical work experience. This is, however, applicable only if you can show your motivation to study medicine and understanding of the career in other ways. For example, connect with medical students or junior doctors on LinkedIn or Twitter and ask them whether you can drop in for a chat via video communication (the most popular app would be Zoom or Google Meet). Otherwise, there are loads of alternatives online which are available f.o.c. Let me guide you through some of them;
- BSMS Virtual Platform
(https://bsmsoutreach.thinkific.com/courses/VWE)This course provides a ‘virtual’ work experience for those looking to apply to medical school. You will be introduced to the NHS before exploring the roles and skill sets of six different medical specialties. Along the way, you will also consider some of the challenges and wider issues doctors face.
- Observe GP
(https://www.rcgp.org.uk/training-exams/discover-general-practice/observe-gp.aspx)This website has lots of interactive GP consultation videos that can provide you an insight into a GP’s work life. Always have your own reflective diary as your personal reflection is unique and makes you stand out from the rest of the applicants.
- Virtual Work Experience
(https://www.monash.edu/medicine/handsonhealth/the-program/virtual-work-experience)Using online collaborative tools, the unique two-day program, initiated by Monash University, can equip participants with knowledge that is helpful in healthcare problem solving, interpersonal skills that healthcare workers require etc.
- Volunteering as a campaigner
(https://medicmentor.co.uk/how-to-become-a-doctor-volunteer-covid-19/)Volunteers will be given a certificate and reference for their active contribution. Moreover, you can acquire some soft skills e.g. leadership, management and communication skills while doing this. All these count towards your medical programme.
- Do online courses in Physiology, Anatomy etc.The world, today, is more accessible than ever. Through portals like Coursera and FutureLearn, you can enroll in free short-term courses from universities across US and Europe. Many of these will introduce to the basics of a medical degree and will show very well on your application.
Apart from this, you might also want to watch medical documentaries, listen to medical podcasts or read about latest medical advancements that spark your interest. You can organize online medical information evenings at your school or get involved with local charities. You can aid COVID-19 call centers. Should you have an intense calling for anatomy, read the recommended textbook i.e. COA or Netter’s.
Finally, enjoy your pre-med life to the fullest. The schools do not expect you to have any medical knowledge beforehand, your pre-U facts can take you through, rest assured!
For more guidance on work experience, do check out this link https://www.medschools.ac.uk/media/2717/a-guide-for-gaining-relevant-experience-during-the-pandemic.pdf.
With that, we wish you all the best in your application.
By, Zhi Yung (Bruce), Final Year Medical Student, Monash University