Finding a Work Placement

Getting a work placement is essential for your medicine application, for the sake of your personal statement, interview and beyond. But how do you go about finding one that's right for you? Let's find out!

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While you’ve been researching your application to study medicine, you’ll likely have encountered the phrase “work placement” a hundred times by now. Long story short, you’re going to have to get some work experience, it’s literally required by all UK medical schools! However, it’s also extremely beneficial to your development as a future medical professional!

But how can you get a placement that will look great on your personal statement, give you first-hand experience of your future career and generally be a positive experience? That’s exactly what we’re going to discuss here. These tips and tricks will give you the advantage you need to get the best work placement you can expect!

What is a Work Placement?

In essence, a work placement is an opportunity to enter a professional environment and experience first-hand how people in the industry perform their jobs. It’s not the same as a temporary job or contract, as you’re not employed by the company or being held to the same standards as an actual employee. While you will be given tasks and will have to help out within the team, the primary purpose of the placement is to educate you on the industry you’re hoping to enter.   

Within most professional industries, you’ll be able to find a work placement of some form. Medicine is especially big on work placements, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get one. The competition is high for the most sought after roles (anything within a hospital is going to get taken quick!), due to the impact they can have on your chances of success. The best work placements will not only give you a great experience but will also look fantastic on your personal statement

That’s not to say that other work placements hold no value though. Anything from working at your local GP to volunteering at a care home will give your application a boost. So now the question remains, how do you get a good placement? For some, it may come down to luck but the following tips will be able to help anyone who is looking for a placement. Let’s jump right in!

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Use your contacts

I know what some of you are thinking:

“My parents aren’t doctors, I don’t have any contacts!

The good news is you don’t need to have a 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 anyone 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!

Start with Local Work Placements

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 make 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. The big one that you’re always going to find is care-home work placements. This, of course, isn’t going to be as high octane as a typical hospital placement, but working on a smaller scale may be what you need at this stage. Not everyone is ready to jump straight into the ER, so a calmer setting will give you a chance to experience the human aspect of medicine without the rush of being in a busy hospital.

Go Online

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.

Don't Dismiss Remote Work Placements

The impacts of COVID are gradually fading away as things become somewhat normal in the UK again. As a result, a lot of roles that were held remotely a year or two ago are now returning to in-person positions. 

But that doesn’t mean remote work has gone away in medicine. If you had the choice between a location-based placement and remote placement, you’re likely going to pick the former as remote working “doesn’t give you the full experience”. It’s true that you’re not going to physically be administering any form of medical care from your computer, but you may not be doing that in a hospital either. Remember that you’re there to learn, not do!  

What you do gain from remote working is a more in-depth look into the administrative and logistical side of medicine, which makes up more of the industry than many like to admit. Studying medicine is nowhere near a guarantee that you’ll become Stephen Strange, so you could definitely benefit from broadening your horizons. You may end up finding that you prefer working behind the scenes!

Apply for your Work Placement Early

Securing a work experience placement takes time: emails get lost in inboxes, staff go on leave and applications can take months to be processed. The last thing you want is to be stuck without a placement and with no time to get one!

There are things to consider even before you begin applying. 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.

Be Organised

Pretty generic advice, I know. But you should always follow these steps when preparing for work experience: 

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 daycare centre, you may want to phone them or write a short email introducing yourself and explaining your request (you can attach your CV and extra information should they want to read it).

In addition, it is important to demonstrate commitment in your personal statement and in your interview, otherwise, it may look like you were simply ticking a box. Rather than a two-week block in the summer holidays, volunteering for a couple of hours each week over a longer period of time is one way of evidencing commitment to the care profession. This is going to require an extra amount of organisation and for some placements, this will of course be impossible. The key is to get as much experience as you realistically can, even if it’s not what you’re hoping to do in the future. There’s no such thing as a bad work placement when it comes to your application!

Be Persistent

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, but 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.

Build Relationships during your Placement

This isn’t so much a tip on getting a work placement, but more about the etiquette you should show while on one. Much of medicine is about building and maintaining good relationships and an easy way to do this is by making a good impression while working with professionals. Ensure your expectations are in check and remember you manners, at the end of the day they’re helping you just as much (if not more) as you are for them. You could even send a thank you card at the end of your placement, when you get an interview or when you get into medical school! It’s a small act, but it will stay in their heads.

If they had a good experience with you, that’s a positive reference in the bag that you can use for any future placements or jobs! As well as this, it will help anyone who wishes to follow in your footsteps. With a reference from yourself, they’ll 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.

Learn how to demonstrate your reflections to Admissions Tutors effectively in our One-Day Personal Statement Crash Course

That’s a lot to take in, but you should remember to take all of this into account when beginning your work placement hunt. I can’t understate how important work experience is, not just to your university applications but to your personal development. The knowledge and skills that you’ll learn in your work placement will stick with you for the rest of your career, so you want to make sure you make the most of it! Just to sum up everything we’ve discussed:

Not sure where to start with your Medical School application?

Our Complete Bundle provides support for your Personal Statement, UCAT, BMAT and Interview and guides you to a successful application.

With our Complete Bundle, we guarantee that you will get at least one offer to study Medicine, or your money back.

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