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Getting the right healthcare work experience is key to a successful application to medical school, but it is not always the easiest thing to find. Fortunately there are plenty of information sources that can help you out – and you won’t need family contacts to get it.
First of all, how do you know if an opportunity will count? Bear in mind that you need to demonstrate:
- Commitment to a medical career and realistic expectations – particularly shown through longer-term medical or caring experience
- Familiarity with the NHS from the inside
- Decision-making skills
- Coping well with stressful situations
- Empathy and communication skills
One placement or work experience opportunity does not have to cover all of these, in fact medical schools will expect you to have at least two or three, and you can include some non-healthcare experience too e.g. coping with difficult customers in a part-time bar job. On the healthcare front, mix it up – you can get valid experience from working in a range of settings, not just hospitals and GP surgeries, but also hospices, care homes, children’s playschemes, volunteering for counselling helplines and more… Direct caring interactions are particularly important (not just filing papers in a back-office). Here are some ideas and links to get you started:
Please note, The Careers Group, University of London is unable to guarantee the details of every opportunity listed here, so check the details of all opportunities before applying. This list is not comprehensive. Inclusion does constitute a recommendation. No responsibility will be taken by The Careers Group, University of London, for loss or damage, direct or consequential, resulting from the use of services or information provided by maintainers of these links.
- Volunteer at University College London Hospital
- Volunteer for the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust
Use the NHS services search to find your local hospitals and search their websites or the websites of their NHS Trust to find more opportunities.
- NHS jobs – search for roles like ‘health care assistant’, ‘porter’, ‘support worker’, ‘radiology/radiography assistant’ or ‘phlebotomist’ and you might find some (low) paid roles available to those without qualifications (though some experience is preferred).
Paid caring work
- This JobOnline Health Care search lists a number of opportunities particularly for roles like personal/home care assistant which could demonstrate caring, communication and empathy with commitment. Experience may not be required.
- Home care – UKHCA – you can use this site to find home care agencies in your area and see if any can offer you work. You won’t necessarily need qualifications, but some previous caring experience, evidence of immunisations, references and a CRB check may be required.
- St John’s Ambulance first aid volunteers – St John’s can give you all the training you need to handle first aid situations under pressure, as well as give you the opportunity to practice your skills at public events like the London Marathon. You may find your university has a student branch such as LINKS at the University of London – check with your union.
- British Red Cross first aid volunteers – like St John’s ambulance, British Red cross can offer first aid training and the opportunity to practice your skills at events.
- Volunteering sites like Do-it and Volunteering England, can help you find local opportunities that fit your schedule. In particular this can be a way to find hospice work, playschemes, mentoring/befriending and community support work.
- Help the Hospices – Find a Hospice – use this website to search for local hospices and get their contact details. Many will indicate here if they are open to taking volunteers.
Remember to check in with your university volunteering centre/service too – they can be a great way to find local volunteering and you may be surprised at the health-related opportunities they have available or can find for you.
- Nightline – help man the phones providing support for students in London. As it is set up for students, you may find it easier to fit around studies and less demanding on your time than other helplines.
- SANEline – provide callers with emotional support and information on mental health.
- Samaritans – help those in distress who may be having suicidal thoughts. Samaritans prefer a minimum of one year commitment from volunteers. Training and support are provided.
Traditionally many people arrange a couple of days following a doctor through personal connections – think you don’t have any? You could try writing to, and/or visiting local GP surgeries, to ask if you could shadow a doctor or perhaps a nurse. You should supply a CV and covering letter demonstrating your interest in medicine as a career.
If that is not getting you results, try:
- Alumni contacts – see if your university or former school has an alumni office who can arrange to connect you with an alumnus.
- University careers service – sometimes alumni careers networking is arranged through the university careers service – ask if they can help you with a contact.
NB work-shadowing alone will not be enough for a Graduate Entry to Medicine application. You will need long-term and hands-on caring experience too.
A number of gap-year type organisations can offer hands-on medical experience or work in orphanages – a real eye-opener but it can be expensive. You can look in the ‘community development’ opportunities of the established general gap year organisations such as i-to-i or BUNAC. Alternatively for some very medicine-oriented opportunities see:
NB people often have variable experiences with gap-year organisations. I recommend googling for reviews before making a payment.