Are you worried about not having any clinical work experience in your application to medical school due to COVID-19? This blog will give you some pointers on getting the most out of any charity work you may have already undertaken.
When I sat down to start writing my personal statement, I made a mind map and thought about all my different experiences and how they could apply to medicine. My two main examples were shadowing a neurosurgeon, and working in a mental health charity.
Before I started writing, I thought that I would have so much to write about my experience in a hospital, and nothing much about the charity.
Surprisingly, when I started to think about how much I got from working in a mental health charity, I realised that it is that experience that will make me a better doctor, not one of trundling around neurosurgery as a 16-year-old.
Here are a few top tips on getting the most out of the experience whilst you’re there, and how to write about it in your personal statement.
1. Talk to everyone, not just those who look important
It is easy on work experience to look at the people who seem important and follow them around to make sure that you make a good impression. As essential as this is, make sure that you don’t neglect anyone else in the process.
When I was on work experience, I found the most interesting stories were from people that use the charity, and the workers who really keep the service running – the nurses, the receptionist, the kitchen assistant are just a few examples. Remember that in a hospital, for instance, it isn’t just the doctors who care for every aspect of a patient’s stay.
2. Find out how the charity helps people
This seems like a pretty obvious point, but it is overlooked a lot of the time. When you’re speaking to everyone, ask about how the charity helps them, and where they would be without it.
You’ll find that these simple gestures, and a little time with people that want to listen, have such a big impact on people’s lives.
I’m cheating a bit with this example because I did it whilst at medical school, but listening to how an elderly resource centre in Camden helped its clients was a humbling experience and totally changed my view on social care.
3. You will get out what you put in
Newton’s Third Law.
If you go in with an open mind and get stuck in, you will love it. You will see charity and social care in action, and it will make you a better person, not just a better doctor. When I did my work experience at Mind, I played dominoes with a person suffering from bipolar disorder.
You’re probably thinking: how that has any relevance to medicine? For one, it teaches you that patients are not just codes and numbers.
In the application process, and even the early days of medical school, it is inevitable that you will want to show off everything that you know about diseases. Always remember that whichever disease you’re talking about, it affects somebody.
These sorts of points are vital in an interview for medical school because they are looking for compassion and empathy as well as knowledge.
4. Don’t just write about what you did
“I played bingo with a schizophrenic lady and I made tea and coffee for some other clients.”
“After sitting with a lady who suffered from schizophrenia and finding out about how it affected her, I realised the importance of social care in modern healthcare.”
Which sounds better? Whenever you’re writing about experiences on a personal statement, and this relates to clinical experience too, don’t just make declarative statements.
Give the admissions tutor a real sense of why those experiences will make you a better doctor. What made you do it in the first place? What did you get out of it? Why will that make you an amazing doctor?
I hope that this blog has shown that clinical experience isn’t necessarily more valuable than working in a charity.
Don’t be disheartened if COVID-19 impedes your chances of securing shadowing opportunities, capitalise on charity experiences you already have!
I would even go as far as to say that voluntary work is better because it shows a lot more valuable characteristics for medicine than poking a catheter and pretending you understand everything the consultant says!
The Hippocratic Oath talks about how “warmth, sympathy and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug”, and working in a charity will show that without a doubt.
Words: Daniel James
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