Work experience is an invaluable part of taking a gap year, just because it can then be used for literally anything else – the skills you learn can be applied to any applications you make, whether they’re for medical school or a job.
The earlier you can plan it, the better – because then you’ll have your pick of places to work and experience, and you can start making contacts early to get the most out of it. If you want to work in a hospital for experience, then you can sign up to work as a healthcare assistant in the bank so you fill in any gaps they have in the rota.
This gives you a little bit of extra money as well as first-hand experience of what the hospital is like. It also gives you plenty of time to get to know the patients and staff on your ward, so you can truly understand what it’s like to work within and be treated by the NHS.
You may also wish to contact local volunteering projects such as Girlguiding/Scouts , Samaritans, Cancer Research – the list is endless, but all would be grateful for your help and provide a valuable insight into your local community.
Understanding people and what motivates them is a crucial part of being a good clinician and if you can demonstrate good communication skills and empathy, then you’re halfway to the medical school of your dreams.
Your school or college may have a list of local opportunities and it’s best to take advantage of that list whilst you’re still at school, because then you can be supported by the teachers around you. They may even be able to advise you on which would be most suitable for the skills you have and the skills you want to develop.
Any experience working with people will be useful and can be spoken about for a medical school application, so why not consider volunteering abroad?
There are a lot of sustainable projects now taking sixth-form students out to help, whether that’s on a different continent or just choosing to stay working within Europe. They may even offer medically-based projects, but this isn’t essential.
Travelling itself can be a brilliant way to spend a gap year – experience with a variety of cultures will make you a more well-rounded doctor, and a gap year may well be one of the only chances you get to travel wherever you want and not have to attend certain conferences, or work in certain places!
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to see the sights in Spain, or want to practice your French in Belgium?
It might be that in looking over your medicine application, you’re aware you have some gaps to fill. Whether that’s joining a sports team to prove you have dedication or getting more work experience to prove your understanding of medicine; a year is plenty of time to achieve what you want. The earlier you start, the better it’ll look and the more you can achieve, so start planning early for your medicine gap year.
Ideally you want to be mid-way with your goals around Christmas time if you want to be putting them on an application and talking about them at interview, otherwise you’ve started too late to be considered dedicated to getting them done, especially if they’re something long-term.
Earning money and working on skills you want to develop are both things you can fit around everything else, but should be considered carefully. You have the whole of your medicine gap year to do what you want; if you can use that time to develop your skills, your bank account, or both, then that’s always going to be useful in the future.
You don’t have to go out and work flat out, but having an extra few pennies to spend at university will ease the way, and if you know you have something you enjoy and are good at, don’t let it fall by the wayside because you’re focused on medical school.
Don’t let medical school be the be-all and end-all – if you love maths, but can’t find a way to link it to medicine, it doesn’t mean you should stop doing it. If you want to tell everyone about the history of the Royal Navy at a museum, don’t let the prospect of it not fitting in your application stop you.
Words: Katie Hodgkinson
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