When thinking of applying to UK medical Schools, it is often of paramount importance to have some kind of work experience in a caring capacity. The days that straight As would pave the way for medical school are almost over as there are lots of non-academic requirements medical schools are currently using to screen out unsuitable applicants for the profession. Experience in a caring capacity could start from volunteering at care homes or hospices to paid employment as a healthcare assistant (HCA) and higher, depending upon your previous qualifications.
Most applicants for medicine have previous degrees in other areas of studies and, hence, medical schools strictly advise having a demonstrable insight into the profession as entry requirement to those applying for graduate entry (4-yr accelerated programmes). Having experience before embarking into a medical school would help make an informed career choice – work experience is so often seen as a very useful means of researching a career in medicine. As medicine is long known to be a mentally, emotionally and physically demanding field, ways to prove professional commitment are very much prioritised. This is not to say medical schools will frown upon applicants, who do not have direct healthcare experience, but any form of work which has transferable skills very much needed in the medical profession is highly valued , but having a more pronounced, health-related experience makes applicants stand out from the crowd on personal statements and during interviews in what is seen as one of the most competitive fields of study to get into.
We might have heard the saying, “medicine is a way of life” and indeed it is. Some people might prefer medicine for the perceived ‘social class’, or for that matter for financial reasons. But I would say there are lots of fields with normal ‘9 to 5 jobs’ that even bring financial security much better than medicine without the stress and need to work in an unsocial hours.
The total cost of educating a medical doctor, including NHS resources that will be made available, in UK is estimated to be worth £250,000. It is for those financial reasons and the like that we so often hear the belief that mature students would make better doctors than school leavers as the likelihood that they would drop out is less, as their intention to read medicine is more often than not deliberate. The graduate entry scheme was introduced in the past decade as part of this initiative, where countries like the US normally following this route in terms of medical education. So for medical schools to make a shrewd pick, the applicant must help them make the selection process easy by picking the right experience in a healthcare setting and achieve the other minimum requirements, such as the achieved/predicted grades and the UKCAT, which was introduced in 2006. Applicants will be judged on their potential benefit to the medical profession.
Work experience will help you
- Gain a realistic awareness of the everyday realities of life in the health service (working in the healthcare system and how the challenges the sector faces affects all parties involved – from the patients to the medical doctors in charge of their care to the finance people overseeing the expenses)
- Acquire an insight or knowledge about your own abilities and limitations (strengths / weaknesses , for instance, dealing with difficult situations)
- Gain an insight into the patient experience (what it feels like to be a patient and what issues there might be)
- Communicate well with all sorts of different people (as working in multi-disciplinary settings is the way the profession operates)
- Show commitment and take responsibility for your learning and plan future goals (continuous professional developments are core parts of this career).
Medical schools understand the difficulty applicants face to secure work experience that any commitment to show interest would be appreciated. The admissions tutors are looking for indicators that the student has the right personality, fitness to practice and commitment. Any experience that would be worth mentioning in the personal statement (PS) and during the interview would suffice. Shadowing GPs (General Practitioners) would normally be mentioned, but if you do not have the right ties or the luck necessary to land one, it would be unwise to just stubbornly look for such opportunities while the voluntary sector is begging for staff. The confidentiality scheme put in place would dissuade doctors from showing the green light as patients might not feel comfortable to talk about, say their family history, next to a stranger who is not professionally tied up to keep the oaths and with the commitment to serve patients. What medical schools want to see is a dedication for the area of study, one way or the other, and anything done in a caring capacity that boosts your communication skills and let the admission team understand your skills in team work would be acceptable.
The Imperial College’s medical school admission page explicitly states “Most students assume that this requires them to shadow a doctor in a hospital. Practical observation is one way of getting the experience for a future medical career but there are a multitude of other options open to you. Neither the General Medical Council nor the Medical Schools Council mention a requirement to carry out work experience in a hospital and this is backed up by the admissions policy of most if not all Medical Schools. “
That said, being a mature student by itself is a testimony that most of us would have something that we have shared in the past to talk about, whereas mentioning the care one has given to a family member in the personal statement might be deemed to lack credibility. Going into institutions very much operating in the health sector, either care homes or Primary Care Trusts (PCT), in either paid or volunteering capacity might take longer time to get into as they would have a routine check on applicants, starting from CRB disclosures to a very long waiting periods.
There are some widely known work experience gathering schemes run by medical schools so long as you are welcome to afford their asking price. Most of them are aimed for 6th form students – a 3 day seminar for those thinking of applying to medical schools. Medlink, given at University of Nottingham Medical School, is a unique 4-day course for young people seriously considering a career in medicine for £206.67 (inc. VAT). The other is run by Nottingham Medical School students’ committee – think for free or reduced fee – Nottingham’s Widening Access to Medical Scheme, venue Nottingham medical school at the Queen’s Medical Centre (ask them at firstname.lastname@example.org). Private training providers also run medical experience seminars as the one by M&D Group -Simulation Event for £250.00 (inc. VAT) – venue Imperial College London, which states the objective of its programme is “for prospective medical and dental students, both those that are sure that they want a medical career and those that are still making up their minds. For those who already know that they will be applying for medicine or dentistry, the event can help to define why they will be good candidates and what their motivations are (something they will need to be able to defend at interview). For students who are still unsure, the event presents the positives and negatives of medicine and dentistry so that students can make an informed choice.”
One way to start might be Volunteering England, but I very much doubt whether they would have something specifically tailored for medicine, rather something generic. St John’s Ambulance might be the other option to start volunteering, as anything starting from first aid would be viewed as a good medical exposure. Imperial College London runs the pre-medical programmes as well and is worth a visit (Work experience – Imperial). Though the paid ones may issue certificates at the end and give real insight as to what the field entails, I would endorse volunteering at any non-profit organisation working with people with special needs. It is worth applying to the nearest PCTs and care homes as much as possible as getting admitted without a reasonable amount of exposure in a healthcare setting seems pretty much slim.