Most medical schools are very open about the difficulty of securing clinical experience, like work-shadowing or volunteering in a hospital while still at school or college. It’s great if you can, as it will give you the perfect insight into what it means to be a doctor – just make sure you take full advantage of the opportunity, observe carefully, and ask searching questions!
However, your work experience doesn’t have to be in a hospital. Most medical schools state that observing or working alongside people in a caring or service role is just as valuable (especially with people who are ill, disabled, disadvantaged, or vulnerable). One medical school even goes as far as to say that such an experience is more valuable than shadowing a doctor.
Find out about the life of a doctor: read our career goals interview with junior doctor Jodie.
However, most medical schools expect you to have:
- experienced some of the realities of providing care, support, or services to others
- understood somewhat the physical, organisational, and emotional demands of a medical career
- grabbed the opportunity to demonstrate some of the behaviours and interpersonal skills that are essential to becoming a doctor
The Medical Schools Council lays out some helpful guidelines and principles.
- Talk to a doctor: Just talking to a doctor about their or her role can be valuable. This could be your own GP, especially as this is a specialism that a significant proportion of graduates will ultimately enter.
- Volunteer: Voluntary or paid work in a local care home, nursing home, or hospice can provide a great opportunity to observe how effective care is delivered. Here you can see first-hand what the needs of residents are, and how these are met by staff. You can also get involved, developing the interpersonal skills which medical professionals should possess.
- Support others: Working with people with disabilities, special needs, vulnerable children, youth groups, homeless shelters, and first aid charities can grant you the necessary skills and experience to work in the medical field.
- Care for someone: Supporting someone who is ill or vulnerable can provide useful insights and evidence too, although experience in a formal clinical or healthcare setting would usually be preferred as well.
- Get a part-time job: Just working in a responsible position in a service setting like a shop, restaurant, or retail pharmacy can be a good way to develop and demonstrate your ability to communicate and interact with a diverse range of people.
- Take part in extracurricular and community activities: Your sense of commitment and responsibility can be evidenced through your active involvement in school or college life, your local community or other clubs, societies, or organisations. Plus, any unusual interests or achievements will make your statement stand out more. If you took a gap year, voluntary work away from home or overseas would demonstrate a broader experience that the average applicant won't have and can help you stand out.
- Read: Reading books and other literature about medicine will widen your insights and understanding. Keep an eye out for current medical issues and ethical dilemmas being widely discussed. Some applicants get exposed at the interview stage if they don’t follow the news or these happenings.
- Go to uni events: Attend any university events, medical conferences, lectures, or open days that you can get to. While you're there, take the opportunity to interrogate some current medical students about what studying medicine is really like, as well as picking up some tips for applying.
The wider the range of your experience, the better – but if you're restricted by your circumstances, then do what you can.
Just remember that to get into medicine, you’ve got to be the kind of student who can achieve high grades while simultaneously leading an active life and having the initiative to make things happen (something which requires good time management).