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How to Keep an Effective Work Experience Diary

Work experience is one of the most important aspects of any medicine application. The best way to make the most of it is to keep a diary and document what you do each day. You will learn so much within a short period of time, and remembering it all for when it comes to writing your personal statement, and of course the interviews, will be very beneficial!

Here are a few key things to keep note of:

Your activities – and what you learned

The first thing you’re going to want to write about is what activities you were doing during the day. This may be in clinic, or in theatre, or in exciting meetings.

When applying to medical school, the details of activities you did on work experience are a little less significant – it’s all about what you learned. For example, if in theatre you saw the coolest resection of the largest, most glorious astrocytoma ever – great! But what did that teach you about medicine?

When in theatre, take an interest in the surgery itself, but pay more attention to how you feel in that environment; look at how everyone in the room contributes to the surgery, and try to identify the key qualities of a good surgeon or anaesthetist. These are the things you should keep a note of. If you feel it’s appropriate, you could also ask the nurses about their jobs and document this too.

How the multi-disciplinary team interacts with patients

Ward rounds are an excellent way to interact with other members of the multi-disciplinary team (MDT). This includes the physios, pharmacists, dieticians – the whole lot! When reflecting on this part of the day, be sure to write down who had an input on the patient’s care, and how they did so.

You may also wish to consider how they worked effectively as a team (with the doctors especially).  At the medicine interviews, they want to know that you have explored other health careers, or at least have an appreciation for their contribution – the work experience diary is an easy way for you to reflect on your encounter with different members of the healthcare team.  

The qualities of a good doctor

Another common theme at interview is qualities of a doctor. When you’re on work experience, take note of what characteristics you noticed doctors to have. You may wish to think about: compassion, empathy, professionalism, etc. Relating these qualities back to situations you witnessed can have more of an effect.

These moments may involve a patient, and it can be beneficial to record their reason for admission to the hospital (but please be mindful of confidentiality). Some patients can have exceptionally interesting and complicated health issues, and may even have an impact on your view of medicine as a vocation. It’s only to your advantage to document things like this.

Using the diary in your application

When I had my work experience in the clinic, I remember meeting an incredibly fascinating lady with multiple meningiomas. At the time, I wrote it down because I found the case really heart-breaking, but it wasn’t until afterwards I realised that seeing things like this made me want to do medicine even more. This later resulted in the question of “Why Medicine?” being a little easier (and less cliché) to answer, with the aid of the diary.   

Long story short: the work experience diary is a tremendous amount of help when it comes to writing the personal statement and attending interviews. It’s also great practice for when you’re in medical school as you need to keep one when you’re on placement. Even those of us with the best memory will forget some parts of work experience after a period of time. So write it all down: what you witnessed, felt, learned – everything! It’ll be a massive help with your application.

Words: Kay McGillivray

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