How Much Work Experience Do You Need for a Competitive Application?

Work Experience Competitive

Wondering what kinds of medical work experience you need for a competitive application? From hospital placements to voluntary work, it can be difficult to know exactly how much work experience you need.

We spoke to several medical students about the work experience they had when applying…

Read more about the kind of work experience med schools look for below!

See all med school work experience requirements

Mariam, University of Lancaster

“I spent one week shadowing the receptionists at a GP surgery. Due to being aged under 16 I was not allowed to sit in with the doctor. However, this was not a problem because I gained an insight into the administrative aspect of a GP surgery and observed the teamwork and communication that went on between doctors and other staff.

I also spent a few days shadowing a doctor in A&E, which was initially terrifying but extremely interesting. In my Medicine personal statement I was able to talk about my observation that doctors must make good decisions under pressure and time constraints, and gave personal evidence of how I felt that I, too, could achieve this.

I spent two days shadowing an opthalmologist in an eye hospital. This was not as exciting as A&E, of course, but have me an insight into long term conditions and the impact they have on patients. In my personal statement I also wrote about a novel genetic treatment I had learnt about.

In total, I did not have a large number of days of work experience, but I focused instead on what I learnt from it. I also had plenty more voluntary placements in a care home and a cancer support centre.”

Read 5 tricks to get the med school work experience you want>>

Zoe Johnson, Cardiff University

“Before I came to medical school, work experience was the thing I was really stressed about until a doctor gave a the fantastic piece of advice: “do what you love and everything else will fall into place” and this is the motto that I carried with me as I tried to find work experience placements.

I started off by attempting to find a hospital placement by contacting our local hospital. I emailed their work experience coordinator and was fortunate enough to be given one week’s shadowing in the maternity unit. This was not until nine months after I had sent the initial email though, so it is important to start looking early.

The shadowing I did was also not with doctors, it was with midwives and nurses which gave me something different to write about on my personal statement. I didn’t manage to get any further hospital experience but, following the advice of ‘do what you love’; I applied for some volunteering at a local small zoo following an advert that I saw on Facebook.

For the next three years, I spent four hours every Sunday morning working with the animals there, from llamas to raccoons to snakes and whilst this is as far away from a hospital as it is possible to get, I learned so many skills that I still use in my everyday life as a medical student now.

The skills of organisation, leadership potential, resilience and caring can be applied to so many different placements and when it came to my interview, I spent about 1/3 of it talking about my zoo work experience and the university I currently attend loved it as it was so unique.

My advice would be this: try and get some hospital experience if you can, but don’t get yourself in a panic if you cannot. There are plenty of other ways to get experience and it can be enjoyable, don’t let it become a chore!”

Read one student’s account of how they got into med school with no hospital work experience>>

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Daniel James, UCL

“For my application, I had clinical and non-clinical work experience, so that I could show an understanding of healthcare as a whole, not just ‘doctor stuff’.

For my clinical experience, I had a week in neurosurgery, which was absolutely amazing. I was able to speak to patients, sit in MDT meetings, and sit in clinics.

It was really good, but if I’m honest, I learnt a lot more from my non-clinical experience, which was in Mind, a mental health charity. If I’m honest, I was quite nervous about doing this placement as I had no experience of mental health. The week totally stripped me of any stigma and it was an amazing opportunity to speak to users of the charity and see how important these charities are to people.

It showed me that sometimes just sitting and talking to people can be the best medicine, and that illness is more than just a page in a textbook. It was a fantastic experience and I am very active in mental health awareness now as a result.

My advice is to get work experience from different perspectives of healthcare, because it is a great thing to talk about in personal statements and interviews.”

Read the 5 biggest myths about medical school work experience>>

Manishaa Vairavan, Nottingham

“Personally, I found that work experience was my favourite part of the application process. Like most of my friends, I had the two ‘standard’ GP and hospital placements. My third placement was a bit different, since it was at an engineering company. I know it has nothing to do with medicine, but it gave me the chance to explore other career options!

My GP and hospital placements lasted a week each, enabling me to observe a wide range of cases. There was never a dull moment – I saw broken bones, colds and even a cardiac arrest. All of this meant that work experience played a massive role in my personal statement.

In order to get some kind of structure, I focused on showcasing what I had learnt during those two weeks, such as communication skills and the importance of team working. However, the best part about work experience was the fact that I got to be in an environment that I enjoyed, learning about something I’m passionate about!”

Read how to keep an effective work experience diary>>

Maria, Barts and the London

“My top tip for getting work experience would be to ask as many people as possible who might have friends or relatives that work in a hospital or GP practice. It doesn’t matter if they’re a friend’s aunt and you’ve never met them – there’s no harm in at least asking for the possibility of work experience. I did this and I managed to gain a week’s work experience in the oncology department of a local hospital. It turned out to be one of my most beneficial work experience placements, and one that I discussed extensively in my personal statement and interview.

I was also lucky enough to spend a few days on work experience at a GP practice, again through some medical contacts. It was a really useful experience which allowed me to compare and contrast the differences between primary and secondary medical care, which I mentioned at interview.

I also spent a year volunteering at an after-school session each week at a local school with the charity Mencap. If possible, it’s always a good idea to volunteer over the course of a year or more; this not only shows commitment but also allows you to build links with the organisation and continue to volunteer with them in future.

The bottom line is that whether you’ve done a month’s work experience watching pioneering surgery in India or two days of work experience at a local hospital, medical schools want to know what you’ve learnt from the experience, so it’s really important to reflect on what the experience teaches you about the medical profession.”

See how to use your voluntary work experience in your medicine application>>

Natalia Kyrtata, Lancaster

“In the summer holidays before applying for medical school, I spent two weeks at the ENT department of a teaching hospital. I shadowed doctors and audiologists in their outpatient clinics and attended ward rounds and theatre.

I initially found the experience of working in a hospital rather intimidating and overwhelming, but as I grew familiar with the space and the staff, I was able to absorb and learn from the experience.

Even though I was only observing, the team I shadowed were very welcoming and eager to teach me which I found incredibly valuable. As I grew up and went to school in Greece, it was particularly important for me to observe how an NHS hospital works, its structure, what it can provide and what kind of patients can be referred to secondary care.

I elaborated on this in my personal statement and wrote about the management of a complex patient which particularly impressed me, highlighting the ethical implications of the case.”

Want more tips on finding medical work experience?


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