Work experience

Work experience is hugely important for your medicine application. It shows that you have hands-on caring experience and a realistic insight into medicine as a career.

HYMS looks for a combination of different kinds of experience, so you'll ideally want to spend some time shadowing a doctor or consultant, and some experience of more personal care. Ideally your experience should demonstrate a sustained interest, lasting at least three months.

Need a hand?

Many people struggle to get placements in hospitals and GP surgeries, but these aren't the only places medical schools consider as experience! Here are a few ideas about where to look.

Hospitals

Experience of working in a hospital is always valuable, but it can be very difficult to get hold of, and this is something universities take into account.

There are many things you can do as a volunteer in a hospital: basic patient assistance, talking to patients on the wards, or shadowing a doctor. These are just some of the possibilities. Whatever you end up doing, it is all valuable patient contact and can give you an insight into the workings of a hospital.

A good place to start is by phoning up the voluntary services department of the hospital and this contact can generally be found on their website. You can also try looking on the NHS jobs website (http://www.jobs.nhs.uk) as they sometimes advertise voluntary jobs, but bear in mind these usually involve a long-term commitment.

The process of applying for hospita experience can take a long time, so try to apply as early as possible -- allow six months if possible. You will also need a DBS (criminal records) check.

Please be aware that hospitals will not take on under 16s -- this is a legal restriction.

NHS primary care

GP surgeries can be a great starting point to find work experience. Since they are smaller organisations than hospitals, you can often find they offer work experience placements more readily.

To observe a consultation you will need patient consent, so what you see will depend on both the patients and the policy of the practice you are in.

You can try phoning up your local GP surgeries and clinics to ask about any available opportunities. To search for possible places to volunteer, try http://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search.

Hospices

Hospice work gives you an insight into palliative care. With an ageing population, palliative care is becoming more and more important, so it's definitely something worth experiencing.

Volunteering or working in a hospice can be very rewarding, as you are providing support and care to people who can often feel isolated. It also shows that you can handle the emotional difficulties that a doctor can be faced with.

Most hospices have both an in-patient unit and a day therapy unit, so there are normally lots of different volunteering opportunities. You might find yourself helping to assist the staff on the day therapy unit to create a friendly atmosphere, or helping with the housekeeping on the in-patient unit.

For hospice information throughout the country:
www.helpthehospices.org.uk/getinvolved/volunteering/

For Dove House Hospice in Hull:
www.dovehouse.org.uk

For St Leonard's Hospice in York:
www.stleonardshospice.org.uk

Care homes

It may not involve seeing the treatment of patients or watching exciting operations, but work in care homes is all good experience and will certainly help boost your UCAS personal statement!

Volunteering in a care home is very practical, and it's all about interacting with people. This is a great example of hands-on care too, so make sure you take note of the types of activities you have been taking part in.

To get a placement, try phoning up local care homes, or writing them a letter with a CV attached explaining why you want the experience and a bit about yourself.

Care home work doesn't have to be voluntary. There may be some paid positions available.

Additional support needs

There are many institutions and charities that support both children and adults with additional support needs. They may require help with communication, learning or integration into the community.

St John Ambulance

St John Ambulance gives you the chance to learn first aid skills and put them into practice at community events -- thus providing both hands-on experience of care, and communication skills from your interactions with members of the public.

St John ambulance have many ways you can get involved, and there are clubs for all age groups. Contact them through their website: www.sja.org.uk

Working with children

Working with children can be enjoyable and rewarding. It also demonstrates that you can communicate with and entertain children, which can be especially important if you might want to specialise in general practice or paediatrics later in life.

There are many ways you can go about this. You could work with children with disabilities, from disadvantaged backgrounds or those suffering from an illness. You can even try volunteering at local clubs like brownies, in out of school kids clubs, children’s sport teams or scouts!

Counselling or support work

There are various charities that provide support work or counselling services that you can get involved with. These possibilities require a long-term commitment, as they involve a lot of training.

One example is the Samaritans, where you can be a support volunteer or a listening volunteer depending on your experience and what you would prefer to do. It can allow you to develop your listening and communication skills as well as changing people’s lives. For more information visit: http://www.samaritans.org/volunteer-us

There are also opportunities to volunteer with Childline, bringing together working with children and support work. For more information visit: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-your-time/volunteer-your-time_wdh72793.html

General volunteering websites

Getting the most out of it

You'll benefit enormously from your work experience if you give a little thought to it in advance. Here are some pointers!

What will you be doing?

Are you shadowing a doctor? If so, what type of ward? Will you just be observing? Will you be meeting patients? There are different ways you can prepare, depending on what sort of work you'll be doing.

What's expected of you?

It is important that you know what you need to do. Do they need you to have a certain level of experience already? Are there requirements you need to meet? Is there any background reading you need to do? Are there specific goals for you to achieve while you're there?

Do you know what you need to wear? Dress code can be important and will vary depending on where you are working. In most places, especially hospitals, there is a 'bare below the elbow' policy which means no watches, bracelets or long sleeves.

If you are shadowing a consultant you may want to wear smart trousers and shirt. If you are volunteering in a hospice or a care home, they may provide you with a uniform. As a general rule, it is better to be too smart rather than too casual – but if in doubt, why not just ask?

Hints and tips
  • Interact with patients - this will not only help with your communication skills, it will also give you an insight into how patients' feelings are affected by the care they receive. Even if you're nervous when it comes to talking to patients, give it a go! Over time it becomes much more natural and soon you'll find it easy! Developing your interpersonal skills will really help when it comes to interviews, so make the most of the opportunity. (Remember to check with a member of staff first to make sure it is OK to talk to a patient.)
  • Keep a diary – At the end of each day, keep a record of what you experienced and how you felt about it. You don’t need to make a detailed note of exactly what happened on each day -- the important part is what you learned from it. This will be good to look back on before writing your personal statement and it will be really helpful for attending medical school interviews.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions – If you have any questions about what is expected of you, the dress code or what you will be doing, remember to ask these at interview. If there isn't an interview, then you can always ask at your induction! If people are too busy to answer your questions there and then (which can sometimes happen, given the nature of the medical profession), they may find time later. Write down any questions you may have while you're working and ask them later.
  • Get more involved – If there's a quiet moment, always ask if there is something more you can do to help or get more involved. Get the most out of your placement!
  • Reflect on your experiences – Medical schools don’t just want a list of everything you saw and did on placement. They want to know how the things you experienced helped you come to the decision to apply for medicine. They also want to know how your experiences have given you a realistic insight into the role of doctors and other health care professionals.
  • Illustrate your personal attributes – Work experience can be used to show you have the attributes that would make you a perfect medic: caring nature, team working skills etc.
  • Show you understand the system – Your placement(s) allow you to see how the NHS and other medical establishments are run, and the pressures that doctors face. Try to make sure this comes across in your personal statement, and remember to reflect on what you've learned from participating.