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5 Things To Know Before You Begin Work Experience

Starting your medical work experience? This blog details the top 5 things you need to know before beginning your placement – from contextualising the consultations you observe to the importance of reflecting on what you see.

1. Don’t just do it for the sake of it

I know we all do work experience and volunteering to enhance our medical school applications, but don’t just do it because you have to. Actively make sure you get something out of it, because at the end of the day, if you idly sit there with a doctor just so you can write on your personal statement that you ‘shadowed a GP for a week’, you’re just wasting your time!

Make sure you engage as much as you can, feed your curiosity, ask the doctor questions, talk to other healthcare professionals involved in patient care so you can truly appreciate their role in the wider team, and if you’re volunteering, make sure you try and interact with other people as it’ll really help enhance your communication skills.

Also, work experience can be a really good motivator as it’s often one of our first exposures to the fantastic world of medicine – grasp the opportunity and find out more!

2. Look out for the key qualities of a doctor

Reflect on what the key qualities of a doctor are and examples in which you have seen a clinician display these traits, or in some cases, not display these traits. This will help you when it comes to preparing examples for interview, or even your personal statement!

Some of these key qualities/skills include:

3. Look out for the 4 principles of medical ethics in action!

Many of you will already be aware of what the 4 principles are. These are:

If you want to read around these principles a bit more, I really recommend the book “Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction” by Tony Hope. It’s a short and concise read that explains everything in an engaging and easy-to-understand way. The way a doctor acts in their professional life and certain things that he/she does will be to abide by these four basic principles. In your work experience, try and see if you can spot them, and try and spot situations in which these principles oppose or counteract each other. You’ll really look like you know your stuff if you mention one of these principles in your personal statement or interview, with an example too!

4. Contextualise the consultations you observe

Think more deeply about the cases that you encounter, and how this case and its management may have differed in different contexts. Think about the patient themselves and how the interaction between doctor and patient may have differed if the patient was of a different age group, or if they had a learning disability or a language barrier. Think of the challenges which may present if the patient was threatening or abusive or not willing to take responsibility for managing their health and wellbeing.

Extend your thoughts to different settings, how would care have differed if the patient was receiving care in the community as opposed to a hospital? Explore the psychosocial aspects of the case and the impact on the patient’s family and work. Always try to appreciate the doctor, the patient and society’s perspective in every case you see. Such lateral thinking and exploring of a scenario or situation deeper not only enhances your ability to see things from different points of view but will give you an advantage at interview, where you may be expected to dissect a situation from different angles like this.

5. Reflect on what you see

Your college/sixth form tutors may have told you this, but take this from someone who’s actually been through the application process – writing down what you learn on your work experience and reflecting on what you see is a life-saver when it comes to writing your personal statement and preparing examples for interview!

You may have been told to write a diary for example, but remember, it doesn’t have to be boring! Make this activity as fun as you like. For example, I kept a blog as I felt that, as it’s an online platform, it would motivate me to actually sit there and write down my thoughts at the end of a long day of work experience. Find something that you’ll enjoy doing and trust me, just do it. It may be a bit of a pain at the time but I cannot stress how much it helped me! To get a better idea about what I’m talking about you can view examples of some of my reflections of work experience here.

Also, don’t forget, reflection and indeed reflective writing is an important part of a doctor and medical student’s life, so there’s no harm in acquiring and beginning to practice this skill now!

Words: Tahmeena Amin

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