I haven’t been able to get any work experience – what do I do?
It’s very important that you plan ahead when thinking about work experience – it can take up quite a lot of your time and require preparation beforehand as well as reflection afterwards. Thinking everything through in advance will mean you can get the most out of whatever you end up doing. However, if for whatever reason this hasn’t worked out for you, and you’ve found yourself panicking at the last minute that you haven’t done enough – here are a few points of advice.
Keep calm and reflect
If you are genuinely interested in getting into medical school and pursuing a career as a doctor, chances are you have actually done something that counts as work experience. When faced with having to write your personal statement, it’s easy to blank out the relevant things you could mention, or think that what you’ve done isn’t impressive enough. Even so, try to overcome those worries – medical schools really aren’t looking to recruit people who have volunteered in a conflict zone in a third world country and saved fifty lives, all before graduating from secondary school! Try to carefully think back over the past few years. What was it that inspired you to become a doctor in the first place? What have you done that’s developed your interest? Think of any situation remotely related to healthcare that you’ve observed or been involved in, however brief or seemingly insignificant. What did you learn that you could possibly relate to your desire to study medicine? How did the event influence you? Remember, the point is to show that you’ve reflected on your experiences, not to be able to describe loads of complicated procedures that you’ve had the luck to observe – the person reading your statement will probably be way more familiar with them than you are anyway.
You’re perfect the way you are
Try not to compare your achievements to those of other people – admittedly, this isn’t an easy task. Getting into medical school is such a competitive process that you’re inevitably going to be measuring yourself up against your peers. Feeling the sharp pangs of inadequacy as you hear someone talk about the amazing experience they’re having shadowing a top consultant is basically inevitable at some point. In comparison to what other people say they’re doing, your attempts at gaining work experience might feel totally useless, and you might find yourself doubting whether it’s actually worthwhile, or even if it counts at all. But your life isn’t other people’s life, and the best thing you can do is to stay focused and be determined to get the most out of what you have been doing. Potentially, you can make anything you do count – it’s all about how you approach it. If you get the best work experience opportunity you can think of, but then don’t engage or think about what you’re doing, it’s going to be a waste of time.
Beggars can’t be choosers
If you’ve had a good think and still can’t come up with anything you’ve done before that you think could be relevant to medicine, it’s doubly important that you be open-minded about what you could potentially do to gain some work experience. It’s not all about shadowing a doctor or helping out on a hospital ward – try to think out of the box. There are so many possible ways of gaining insight into the medical world – make sure you’ve considered other possibilities. Do some research online, at school, at your GP’s or elsewhere in your community to see whether there’s anything out there that you think could be relevant. Don’t turn your nose up at opportunities just because they don’t comply exactly with your idea of what you’d like your work experience to be. You really never know what’s going to prove helpful, so stay open to all possibilities – especially if you’re trying to find something to do at the last minute!
Be shameless about asking for help
Don’t be shy about asking for help. Family, friends and teachers can be a huge resource when it comes to securing work experience, especially if it’s at short notice. It doesn’t feel like the most honest way of going about it, but contacts are often the easiest way of finding a position. They will be able to vouch for you, which is extremely valuable when applying for work experience in strict healthcare settings. It can feel somewhat awkward asking distant family members or teachers you’re not particularly close to whether there’s anything they could do to help, but just remember what your goals are. Are you really going to risk not getting valuable work experience that could make the difference to your application, just because you feel asking someone for help would be inappropriate or a bit embarrassing? Go on – you’ve got nothing to lose!
Don’t take no for an answer
It may be that you’ve done all the right things – given yourself enough time, asked around, done your research into what’s out there, but just kept being rejected from work experience positions you’ve applied for. This might be the case especially for hospital, GP surgery, care home, or hospice work – any situation in which patients are in a particularly vulnerable position and the integrity of staff is therefore absolutely paramount. It is understandable – of course these institutions can’t just let any student walk in and do what they like, potentially interfering with patient care. This need for caution may mean that you’re required to fill in an off-putting amount of confusing and complex paperwork before you’re even allowed to empty your first bedpan. On the other hand, you need to gain some experience at an early stage somehow if you’re going to contribute later as a qualified medic. So what do you do? Dealing with this opposition requires real tenacity and courage – the important thing is to be persistent. Don’t be put off if the first person you speak to thinks it’s not a good idea – they may simply not have much experience working with students themselves, and feel they won’t know what to do with you. Being able to provide a rough plan of what you want to do and learn, as well as coming across as enthusiastic, will be very helpful. If this doesn’t work, don’t give up just because you’ve been rejected once – the place you’ve applied to may have openings in the future, rules might change, or you might be older (age can be cited as a prohibitive factor).
To Sum Up:
- Don’t panic – if you have a proper think there’s definitely something you’ve done that’s potentially relevant.
- Stay focused on your own achievements and get the most out of what you’re doing – avoid comparisons with other people.
- Don’t turn down opportunities just because they don’t seem perfect – you never know what experiences will be helpful.
- Let you family and friends help you out.
- Be persistent – don’t give up if you’ve been rejected once.