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How to Reflect on Your Work Experience

The famous piece of advice everyone gives to prospective medical school applicants – “Reflect on your work experience.” You have probably heard this phrase an endless number of times, but it truly is one of the best pieces of advice you could receive! This blog will give you top tips on how to reflect on your work experience.

Why is it important to reflect on work experience?

Work experience isn’t something you cram in the day before you submit your application. Instead it’s a portfolio you build up over time, spending roughly 2-4 years getting a good insight into whatever your chosen profession might be.

Writing my reflections down is something I didn’t fully appreciate either until the time came when I managed to save myself a lot of stress by having done it. When I was writing my personal statement I had all my reflections at hand, using it almost like a guidebook for what I wanted to include. Most of my interview preparation also consisted of me reading over my reflections and reacquainting myself with my experiences. It will help you immensely, trust me!

What’s the best way to keep track of your reflections?

There are many ways you could choose to do this depending on your own personal preferences. You could keep a handwritten diary which you constantly update, or choose an electronic method. 

My personal favourite is opening a blog where you can post your daily reflections. You can have a look at the reflections I wrote for my work experience on my blog here. I find keeping a blog particularly handy since you can easily access the dates at which you carried out each placement for later reference.

You could also take a look at our blog on How to Keep an Effective Work Experience Diary.

How do you actually write a reflection?

Don’t make the mistake of just writing about what you did. When it comes to writing your reflections, it does need a personal touch. It doesn’t matter whether you were watching the everyday consultations at a GP or a surgeon perform life-saving heart surgery. It’s not what you saw or did that’s important, it’s what you were able to learn from each experience about the roles of a doctor and also about yourself and your own skills. 

Perhaps you learnt the skills needed to build up a rapport with a patient, or maybe appreciate the level of tenacity a surgeon’s work requires. How did you feel hearing about the patient’s problems? Did anything inspire you to pursue this career, or even put you off? Remember to be true to yourself – write your own thoughts and feelings and the insight your experience gave you. 

Try and keep a list of keywords handy which you can refer back to. Doctors have to be compassionate, empathetic, good listeners, good communicators, team players, good leaders… so think of examples when you saw any of these key characteristics. Also look out for any examples of any of the principles of medical ethics in practice: autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.

Something I also did was include case studies for each of the patients I came across. I found this helped to keep my reflections patient-centred and it also made it unique. At your interview you don’t want to be rattling off with the same general overview of being in a secondary care facility like everybody else would have done. You want to be unique! You want to mention that memorable patient you came across! So write about them in your reflection! (Please do be very careful when doing this though – you don’t want to be breaching patient confidentiality in the process)

Words: Masumah Jannah

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