Getting work experience is essential for anyone who is thinking about a career in medicine. People have different opinions about the type of work experience you should do and how much experience you need when you apply. However, as a general rule, you should get as much healthcare experience as you can before you apply to medical school. Working in health is important as it can help you to find out if medicine is really for you, and to give you a realistic idea of what your life will be like if you become a doctor. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to get work experience with a doctor, but you will need experience working in a healthcare setting if you want to apply to do medicine. Below are a few examples of the type of work experience you might do.

Shadowing doctors

'Shadowing' involves following a doctor or team of doctors to observe what their work actually involves. This can give you a really useful insight into whether you will enjoy life as a doctor. You will often be able to observe procedures, find out about patient's experiences and learn about their treatment.As a result, shadowing requires you to display maturity and professionalism and it is important that you are able to present yourself in this way when applying for a shadowing placement.Shadowing a doctor/healthcare professional can require a bit of legwork, however there are a number of ways which you can maximise your chances of gaining some vital experience:

Indirect Contacts: 

Speak to your family and friends, they may know someone who is who works with healthcare professionals. This is often a great route as they may be willing to make the initial contact and if they already have a rapport with the intended person, this can increase the chances of getting a yes.

Your own GP: 

Call your family doctor; they may be willing to allow you to shadow them for a short time, or at least be able to suggest alternatives. They may also be able to discuss medical career paths with you and provide essential knowledge for further down the line.

School/College Careers Co-ordinator: 

If you are in school or college, your institutions advisors may have local links that you could contact.

Contact local GPs and Hospitals: It is a good idea to write to local GPs and hospital doctors (or hospital volunteering services), explaining that you are hoping to spend time shadowing doctors to learn more about a career in medicine. This way may not have a high success rate, but perseverance can pay off.

You should explain a little bit about why you would like to be a doctor and what you have done in the past (e.g. school achievements / responsibilities) and ideally enclose a CV. You might also need a reference from a teacher or employer etc. Remember to be polite and courteous at all times, regardless of how frustrated you may be with the process.

If you are not sure how to get in touch with doctors, you can simply try general practitioners listed on the Yell website or search for your local hospital online.

Yellow pages
Yellow pages

Hospice volunteering

Hospices provide care for patients who are terminally ill. This may mean providing a comfortable place for people to spend the last days of their life or providing support and respite care for people with a terminal illness. Many hospices rely heavily on volunteers to help with their work. This might involve helping with meal times, patient transport or day trips.

This type of work can be emotionally demanding but very rewarding, and it may give you an insight into whether or not you can cope with some of the difficult situations you will experience as a doctor.

Help the hospices website
Help the hospices website

Hospital volunteering

Most, if not all hospitals have a team of volunteers to help both staff and patients. Volunteers help with refreshments, show people where to go, keep patients company and provide practical support for the staff. Through this type of work, you can learn about how hospitals run and see what happens on medical wards. You can also spend lots of time with patients in a caring or supportive role, which is ideal for anyone applying to medical school.

Contact your local hospital directly to find out about volunteering opportunities or try searching our work experience database.

Healthcare jobs

There are also several paid jobs that you can do that don't require much prior training or experience. For example, you can work as a health care assistant (HCA), support worker, phlebotomist or hospital porter, all of which will give you excellent experience working with patients. Getting this type of job is particularly useful if you are taking a gap year (an you don't want to go abroad) or if you are going into medicine as a mature student. If this is the case, you may have to take a pay cut to do this type of work. However, it will show that you are committed to medicine and are willing to give up a great deal to reach your goal. You can also work part time in many of these jobs.

To get this type of work, look in the local paper, contact your local hospital, look for local nursing agencies or try the NHS jobs site.

NHS jobs website
NHS jobs website

Counselling or support work

There are lots of opportunities to work with organisations providing telephone counselling and support. Examples include Childline, who help children in distress, The Samaritans who offer support to adults in crisis and Saneline, who offer advice and counselling to people affected by mental illness.This type of work often requires a longer term committment as you need to gradually build up your skills and you may need lots of training. However, it is a really good way to improve your communication skills which is extremely useful for medical school.Follow these links to organisations which offer this type of voluntary work.

The Samaritans
The Samaritans
Childline
Childline
Yellow pages
Yellow pages

Working with Children

Working with children is another way to gain relevant experience for medical school. Learning how to communicate with kids, as well as entertain them is really useful for medical school, particularly for anyone interested in being a GP or paediatrician.

Barnardos
Barnardos

There are lots of different ways to get involved. For example, you could work with kids with disabilities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds or kids affected by illness.

Camp Quality
Camp Quality

Examples include Barnardos playschemes for children with learning difficulties, Over The Wall and Camp Quality, who run activity weeks for kids with serious illness.

Over the wall
Over the wall

Elderly Care

Caring for the elderly is also excellent experience for would-be doctors. This can often be challenging, as you may need to deal with patients with dementia, hearing loss and physical disability. However, it is also extremely rewarding and can give you a good insight into whether you will actually enjoy caring for people as a doctor.

The best way to search for this type of voluntary work is to look for your local nursing home or rest home and write to them, explaining why you would like to volunteer. Try the yellow pages website as a starting point.

Yellow pages
Yellow pages

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Medical Projects organise hospital work experience and university preparation courses. Find out more.