Whether you worked every Saturday at your local nursing home or spent two weeks in an operating theatre, you’d be surprised how much you’ve actually learnt – and how relevant it is to medical school, and how poorly communicated it is by students on their statements. So – let’s sort it out!
Write out what you learnt from your experience before you try and sculpt it into something for your statement. Don’t be afraid to be off the wall with what you learnt, either – everyone can write essays on kindness and compassion because of that one time they saw a staff member smile or hold someone’s hand, but not everyone will be able to realise that teamwork is more than just being civil to your colleagues.
Yes, there are buzzwords that every medical school looks for, but you can get them in without making your statement appear exactly the same as everyone else’s. Perhaps you saw a doctor make a mistake that was then corrected by a nurse, because everyone has the patient’s best interests at heart. Perhaps it was a consultant taking the time to make sure that their junior doctors were coping with the workload – and maybe it was as simple as someone knowing the tea and coffee orders for the team. Try not to fit your experience into the standard template of ‘I did x time at y place and it showed me xyz skills.’
You only have 4000 characters for your statement and everyone has to have some form of work experience, so don’t just chuck it in there to show you did it and don’t make the whole first page about every single detail of that one patient you saw. Think of your personal statement as a taster, a flavour of who you are – give them enough to ask you about at interview, but not so much there’s nothing to ask.
You could have spent a year working as a healthcare assistant but not made any effort to seek out further opportunities; you could have watched a surgeon’s back for two weeks as he made incisions so small you couldn’t see them.
You don’t have to tell them every fact you learnt (that’s what they’re there to teach you!), but an understanding of medicine and what it involves is crucial. Universities don’t want to take on students that think all of medicine is sitting in a clinic, because they’ll lose them when that student is shocked that they have to spend hours a week on a ward round.
Medical schools know what you did – tell them what it showed you. Prove to them that if you spent three years on the ward training at their medical school, you’ll take on what you need to become a safe, caring and effective doctor.
4. Don’t worry if your experience doesn’t seem as elaborate as everyone else’s
Some people will have spent thousands of pounds on experience abroad and will have seen amazing things, but it means nothing if you didn’t learn anything from it.
If you spent two days on a ward but really got stuck in and asked questions, spoke to loads of members of the team and really felt like you understood what was going on, that’s what matters. There are medical students and doctors that before medical school had no experience of medicine beyond themselves or family members being admitted to hospital.
Work experience is one of the most common questions asked at interview as it’s a really good way of testing your understanding of the career and the day-to-day realities of practice, as well as determining your independence and willingness to get stuck in. It’s crystal clear when someone is lying about the experience they have and you will be caught out.
It can be tempting to make your experience seem like you completely understand medicine in its entirety – but they’re not expecting that and nor do they want it! No matter what experience you have, if you’re honest about it and can show that you understand what that experience meant in terms of choosing medicine as a career, you’ll be fine.
Words: Katie Hodgkinson
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