We meet thousands of students each year and many ask us for advice on how to find relevant work experience within the medical profession. It’s definitely not an easy question to answer, and the advice can vary from university to university, but this blog post aims to offer you some practical tips on how you can secure work experience and ways in which you can make your experience really work for you.

David Gamble is this week’s author and has had an interesting journey to get to where he is. After finishing his A-Levels, David took a year off to travel across India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Following this, he graduated with a masters degree in pharmacy from Nottingham University and worked for leading pharmaceutical firm Pfizer before applying to medical school at UCL. Here are his words of wisdom…

Despite the prevalence of GP surgeries, hospitals, pharmacies, dentists and opticians, finding relevant work experience within your chosen profession can be challenging and deflating when it doesn’t go to plan. In this blog post I’ll hopefully provide you all with some tips on how to target the type of placements university selection panels really value and how to make the most of the work experience you already have.

Tip number 1 – All placements are of equal value.

To use a medical example: work experience with a consultant neurosurgeon in a large teaching hospital doesn’t hold any more weight than a day spent doing home visits with a district nurse. Selection panels aren’t really interested in what you did and they certainly don’t put any higher value on more impressive sounding placements. What they are really interested in is what you learned and how your reflections have developed your interest and understanding of your chosen field. Whatever placements you have, keep a reflective log detailing any interesting patients, conversations or events. Don’t just rely on memory! Document what happened, what you thought, how this made you feel and how this has changed or developed you attitudes and appreciation of the profession. Remember to maintain patient confidentiality! That means no names, addresses or other patient identifiable information. Be vague about patient details – “I saw a patient with Parkinson’s disease who was having trouble managing to dress himself…” – and be detailed on your analysis – ” this made me realise…” To paraphrase a popular house hunting TV programme – Reflection! Reflection! Reflection!

Tip number 2 – no healthcare profession works in isolation.

Doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dentists, opticians and physiotherapists all work TOGETHER to improve and manage patient care. No one profession operates on their own. Patients are managed by a multidisciplinary team made up of the various healthcare professionals relevant to their care. Selection panels highly value experience of other healthcare professions as this demonstrates an appreciation for this inter-profession relationship. For example: if you want to read dentistry, approach pharmacies and GP surgeries for work experience. Pharmacists process dental prescriptions and guide therapeutic management, and GP’s often refer patients to dentists for treatment. Remember, think about and record how your experiences with other healthcare professionals have changed the way you view your vocation and its role in patient centered care.

Tip number 3 – make the most of your placements.

Try and maximise the benefits of all your placements and work experience. I’ve already mentioned keeping a daily log (don’t forget patient confidentiality!), which will be invaluable when writing your UCAS personal statements and preparing for interviews. Also, prepare questions and mini interviews for some of the staff members and people you interact with. Ask them about their jobs, their thoughts on topical subjects and the future of their professions. Ask them about what they like and dislike. These people will provide a fantastic insight into the job and what it means to be part of that profession. Be polite, inquisitive and friendly and these people will open up to you with pearls of wisdom that are absolute gold for interview and written applications. It’s about quality not quantity.

Tip number 4 – it doesn’t have to be medical.

Whatever your chosen healthcare profession it is centered on caring for others. This core concept – and your understanding of it – is something selection panels are particularly hot on. The good news is that this means your work experience doesn’t have to be anything to do with your chosen field or even healthcare related. You simply need to show that you are interested in caring for others and interested in seeking out experiences relating to this. If you’re struggling to find placements specific to your chosen career, be proactive and think outside the box. For example, volunteering in a nursing home can give valuable experience of caring for vulnerable adults and helping with after school clubs can provide a keen insight into the social aspects of caring for children as well as the intricacies of child protection. All of which are very relevant and topical in all healthcare professions.

Tip number 5 – focus on the core skills when looking for and thinking about your experiences.

At interviews or in written statements you may be asked about your experiences and how these have demonstrated the core skills such as communication, teamwork, organisation and leadership. Chose placements and work experience that will enable you to develop these skills. These are relevant to all careers, but especially to medical and healthcare professions where teamwork and the ability to communicate in time critical situations is paramount. When thinking about your experiences and examples of these skills use the STAR mnemonic to plan your answers.

S – Situation and background
T –Task at hand.
A – Action you took
R – Result.

This format is widely used by selection panels and it will enable you to describe your experience in a logical and structured manner.

Please click here for further advice on applying to medical school. We also work in partnership with the British Medical Association and they have a wealth of advice here. If you are sitting the UKCAT exam, you will find the UKCAT Preparation Booklet very useful. Good luck!