Use your contacts
You don’t need to have family member or a friend who is a doctor to be able to use your contacts wisely. According to the theory of six degrees of separation, you’re only six introductions away from any other person on the planet. While maybe only partly true, I can’t emphasise enough the power of networks and contacts. For example, I managed to get work experience with a consultant through my mum’s friend’s husband’s doctor. Some schools and colleges have a volunteer services coordinator or links with local charities and services that you can approach. Ask any- and everyone who may be able to point you in the right direction.
Additionally, don’t forget that there are many different types of work experience. If you’re struggling to think of contacts, chances are you’re not thinking wide enough!
While it may sound impressive to write that you assisted in an “extracranial-intracranial bypass surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital”, large hospitals get floods of applications from prospective medical students and so their placements are more difficult to get.
Many small GP surgeries welcome prospective medical students with open arms and an increasing number have formalised work experience schemes that makes applying easy. For volunteering experience, check out the local newspaper (you know the free ones that come through the door that you automatically bin?) or look at your local council website.
Of course, if the local scene doesn’t cut it for you, search online. Many universities and hospitals run taster courses and shadowing schemes. Most large charities have a ‘Volunteer’ or ‘Work with Us’ page on their websites, and there are countless volunteering websites that can help you find charities in your local area. The NHS jobs website can also be a great place to earn money part-time while also getting some work experience in a clinical environment.
Securing a work experience placement takes time: emails get lost in inboxes, staff go on leave and applications can take months to be processed.
You’ll need a Disclosure and Barring Service check to volunteer with the elderly, children or other vulnerable people. While your employer (the charity, hospital, GP surgery) should organise this for you, be aware that clearance normally takes four weeks and can take up to 60 days.
In addition, it is important to demonstrate commitment on your personal statement and in your interview. Rather than a two-week block in the summer holidays, volunteering for couple of hours each week over a longer period of time is one way of evidencing commitment to the care profession.
Firstly, make sure you’re eligible. Many organisations have very clear application guidelines and criteria on their websites and you’re expected to have read these before you apply! You’ll need to be at least 16 years old for many voluntary roles, and at least 18 years old for many hospital placements. If this information isn’t clearly stated on the website, phoning them to find out this information can save you time filling in the application.
Secondly, make sure you’re available. Larger hospitals often have work experience schemes which only take place at certain times in the year. Similarly, taster courses and shadowing schemes will have specific dates, so watch out for deadlines and ensure that you’re actually available on the dates stated. Where no dates are stated, it is helpful for you to contact them with an idea of the dates you’re looking for, whether these are the dates of your summer holidays, the weekends you’re free or just to say that your timing is flexible.
Thirdly, have all your documents. Some employers will want to see your CV. Chances are, at 16, your CV isn’t very impressive. Still, having one ready saves time and you can continue to update it as you progress through your education and working life. Your school or college may require your employer to sign a document confirming that you undertook the work experience placement. Make a copy of this form, one to keep and one to send to your employer.
For more informal applications, such as shadowing a doctor or helping out at the local elderly day care centre, you may want to phone them or writing a short email introducing yourself and explaining your request (you can attach your CV, extra information should they want to read it).
Work experience is for your benefit. This means it is up to you to follow up and follow through. Providing your phone number and email address makes it easier for them to contact you. Remember to send any documents you said you would. Bear in mind that staff are busy but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to help you! If someone said they’d get back to you by Monday and it is now Wednesday, send them a polite reminder.
If you organise your placement over the phone, it’s usually a good idea to email them the details of your placement in writing. For example, consider sending a short email summarising the dates and activities of your placement as a record of your agreement.
Much of medicine is about building and maintaining good relationships. An easy way to do this is to send a thank you card at the end of your placement, when you get an interview or when you get into medical school!
They’ll also be more likely to offer a work experience placement to your sibling or friend who will undoubtedly ask you for help to find work experience in a couple of years time.
To sum up:
- Use your contacts
(And your contacts’ contacts)
- Apply early
Applications take time and involve a lot of faff
- Be organised
Think dates, details, documents
- Be persistent
Staff are busy but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to help you!
- And finally, use your work experience placement as an opportunity to build good relationships.
Please and thank yous go a long way!