Applicants to medical school are normally expected to have undertaken work experience in some capacity. Work experience can be, however, difficult to obtain in some circumstances. Volunteering can provide valuable experience for you when applying to medicine and it can give you something unique to talk about not only on your personal statement, but at interview as well.Furthermore, volunteering can demonstrate your commitment to the profession and it can give you a well-rounded and realistic insight into the health service, something which can be difficult to obtain from shadowing senior doctors.
Considering the difficulty in obtaining placements in clinical settings shadowing doctors, there are a number of alternative places where you can volunteer which are relevant to your application:
- Care homes
- Treatment wards
- On the wards as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA)
These environments can give you an insight into clinical environments and the work of nurses and allied health professionals, as well as patients. For example, volunteering at a care home or a hospice may involve chatting to residents or helping prepare their rooms so you can get an insight into what goes on in these settings. Equally, volunteering on treatment wards, such as a chemotherapy wards, can give you the opportunity to talk to patients receiving treatment and talk to the professionals delivering the treatment. All of these opportunities are useful to mention in your personal statement and interview.
To give yourself a helping hand when it comes to applying to medical school, it is a good idea to keep a reflective log of your experiences as a volunteer, or during your work experience in general. You should record what you find interesting, what you gain from the placement and what you were inspired to find more about. Reflection is a key attribute of medical students and doctors, and keeping such a log will help you prepare for the application process as well as life throughout medical school.
Considering the role of volunteers, most organisations will be keen for you to get involved. Try and gain as much experience as you can in preparation for your medical school application so you have plenty to talk about, but also give yourself the time to reflect on these experiences as well so you can demonstrate to your medical school that you have these essential skills. Most places/wards/hospices will have a designated person to talk to about volunteering, so get in contact with them and find out what opportunities are available.
Finally, it is important to mention how rewarding volunteering can be. Considering that you are gaining experience, and organisation are gaining an extra pair of hands, everyone’s a winner!