You’re wandering aimlessly around the ward, feeling totally out of place. There is a nurse who’s supposed to be in charge of you and she did acknowledge you ten minutes ago, but she didn’t tell you what to do.
So you’re walking around like an idiot, thinking like, do I refill the alcohol gel dispensers? The gloves? Or do I chat to that patient–wait, no, he’s sleeping…
Then you figure out you’ve got at least three hours left and all you can think about is how quickly you’re gonna turn on Netflix when you get back home.
Eventually, you do get some jobs to do, but it’s the same old: preparing tea and coffee, collecting orders for lunch, organising the store cupboard. And yeah, you’re helping, you feel good about that, but you really wanted to see some medicine in action. You did see some doctors, but they paid zero attention to you and they looked way too busy to take your questions. And with each silly mistake you might make (because you’re too occupied with how many episodes of House of Cards you’re gonna get through later) you want to sink deeper and deeper into the ground.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all come back home from work experience, virtually broken inside, like, “Is this medicine? Is this thing for me? What is life?” So let’s talk about it.
Identify the issue
First off, I’d advise having a long, deep, meaningful chat with yourself. In your head, ask yourself exactly what made you displeased with your work experience and potentially ambivalent towards medicine. Common issues include:
- feeling like you’re no help
- doing monotonous tasks all the time
- feeling like you’re not seeing any ‘action’
- doing too much waiting around
- feeling like the reality is way too different to what your expectations were
So there are many reasons why you might get those mixed feelings. Trying to identify and zoom in on the specific issue at hand can usually point you in the right direction of what you should do next. Some of you might just get a gut feeling. There’s always something you can do and here are some more tips on how to figure this thing out.
Try something different
After an encounter with work experience that wasn’t so great, many of us will feel kind of weird, almost disillusioned. It’s because being a prospective medic is filled with such enthusiasm and keenness that naturally you’d expect to love your work experience, so it can be a surprise when it doesn’t meet your expectations. But maybe, quite possibly, it’s the work experience arrangement or lack of variety that was the issue rather than your enthusiasm for medicine. Why not try other types of work experience? Medicine is an extremely wide-ranging field and maybe, just from the way your workplace is organised, you’re getting only part of the picture. Also, different specialties attract different kinds of people. Not everyone’s about that hospital medicine life – why not try your local GP?
Get more involved
If you’re trying out different types of work experience and time and time again you feel lost and awkward, maybe you could ask yourself whether you’re approaching it all at the right angle. Of course you know that work experience won’t allow you to be a doctor for the day – it gives you insight and understanding – so just because it doesn’t deliver in the way you expected it to doesn’t mean that medicine itself won’t. Read some more on how to get the most of your work experience.
Talk to someone
Sometimes politely telling the person in charge of your work experience how you feel and explaining to them your plans to enter medicine could allow them to be more mindful when managing you. This could modify you experience so that you feel more useful and/or see more things that interest you.
You can also talk to other people to get advice and support with making your decisions. Whether it’s your friends, medical students you may know, a teacher or a careers adviser, simply chatting to someone can help in ways you may not even realise. When we’re confused, our thoughts are an indiscernible tangle – verbalising them can help you to see clearly and make rational decisions. After one conversation, what was once a “I can’t do this, I’m too dumb for medicine” meltdown can become a calm “I just don’t think geriatrics is for me” statement.
Be honest with yourself
Ultimately, this is the most important piece of advice. There are times in your life when you have to keep it real with yourself. If work experience repeatedly makes you question your plans to study medicine and you genuinely think you might hate it, you should take those feelings seriously. One of the purposes of work experience is to prevent the difficulties that come from dropping out of your degree. This isn’t something to be embarrassed about.
Having said that, for the vast majority of people it won’t go that far. Pretty much all of us will at some point feel lost, bored, dumb and/or awkward during our experience – and guess what? That doesn’t change all that much in medical school.
To Sum Up:
- Figure out what’s going wrong
- Have a stab at something different and see if you like it
- See if you can get more out of your work experience
- Speak to someone to get more advice
- Don’t force it – if it simply isn’t not for you, the it just isn’t for you
- Feeling lost/bored/dumb/awkward every now and then is perfectly normal – embrace it