Choices, choices, choices…

So you’ve figured out you’d like to get some work experience and you promptly go about doing your research. You might ask other applicants what they’re doing, you might borrow a book on getting into medicine from the library or you might just end up scrolling through endless forums. Either way, suddenly a great new world opens itself up to you — a world where everyone is saying and putting importance on different things.

Your head could fill with endless questions. Which work experience is better? Which hospital department do I choose? What options do I have if my local GP and hospital can’t take me on? Or what if I already pop into to the care home down the road every two weeks or so, but it’s nothing serious – does that even, like, count?

…Sounds familiar? If so, know that you’re absolutely right to be asking yourself all those questions — there are many ways of thinking about work experience. In this article, I’ll try to shed some light on the subject by showing you different ways of distinguishing between types of work experience. This is so that you can best navigate through opportunities in your community and make choices which yield the best results for you.

Medical vs. non-medical

You’re applying to medicine, so duh, it only makes sense the simplest two types of work experience are medical and non-medical. What I mean by “medical” is referring to a setting where healthcare professionals carry out most of their work — where medical procedures are carried out, where doctor-patient consultations take place, etc.

The most obvious examples of places in which this type of experience can be obtained are:

    • hospital
    • doctor’s surgery (the GP’s)

A hospital will usually offer a wide range of wards and departments for you to work on, so simply saying ‘hospital’ is more than an overgeneralisation.

You may also consider some other options:

    • the dentist’s
    • private clinics
    • medical centres
    • the physiotherapist’s
    • St John’s Ambulance
    • working alongside community midwives
    • the optician’s
    • the audiologist’s
    • blood donation centres

Medical work experience very easily provides you with something quite valuable: observation and therefore understanding of the medical profession. While at the hospital or the GP’s, amongst many other things, you may be tasked with admin work, running errands for nurses or other healthcare professionals, chatting to patients, feeding them… As you do those things you can keep a lookout on what everyone else is doing and saying — this will give you a picture of working in the healthcare system of today.

In fact, observation could become the sole purpose of your work experience, if you’re lucky enough to get shadowing. Here’s the deal.

Shadowing allows you to follow a medical professional, typically a doctor, for a day or few and observe everything that they do on a daily basis. Depending on who you get, they may explain things to you, ask you questions or even find ways to get you involved. This type of work experience is not the easiest to obtain but very, very valuable.

Getting a placement at a GP or hospital can be a fantastic opportunity, but it isn’t the only way to prepare the work experience aspect of your application. Non-medical experience can be just as useful.

Involving care vs. not involving care

While there’s a typical understanding of what care means, I’d like to think of it widely – as situations where you may be put in a position of responsibility as you help or guide someone. Work experience involving care adds important things to your application such as development of empathy, maturity and a sense of altruism.

This type of work experience is probably most extensive. I’ll list just some of the many possibilities open to you:

Working with adults

    • hospices/care homes
    • disability centres
    • resource centres
    • shelters for the homeless
    • prison visits
    • drug rehabilitation centres

Working with kids

    • primary schools
    • special schools
    • Cubs/Brownies/Scouts/Guides
    • youth clubs

Working for the community

    • community centres
    • churches/mosques/temples
    • organising community events

Finally, work experience that’s neither medical nor involving care can also be part of your application. Don’t underestimate the experience you may have obtained working as a cashier at a charity shop or even a waiter at a restaurant. Important things that tend to transcend all types of work experience include:

    • communication
    • contact with a wide variety of people
    • situations that may be difficult or uncomfortable
    • responsibility

Now, the next two distinctions aren’t too important, but nonetheless are worth considering.

Structured vs. unstructured

When you arrange work, let’s say, at your local hospital, you’ll most likely agree on a time each week and the duration of your shifts. You’ll also probably be working in a wider volunteer services system. It’s a no-brainer that this type of work experience is structured. It usually means some commitment on your part but also a support framework and legal protection. Unstructured work experience also has pros – it tends to be quite flexible, which is great if you’re fitting it around your studies – and due to its rather more relaxed nature, you may also be able to get more say in the tasks you get to do.

While structured work experience is what most of us will gravitate towards, it’s good to know that an informal arrangement to visit something like a local care home whenever you have the time or babysitting your neighbour’s kids every now can be a just as excellent source of work experience. This is when the word ‘work’ in ‘work experience’ can become misleading. Maybe ‘experience’ would be enough, who knows.

Short-term vs. long-term

As the subtitle implies

Voluntary vs. paid

Be aware that whether or not you are paid for your work does not truly matter, since the most important ‘payment’ you will receive, or gift rather, is experience. I only mention it because even though you might not mention money at any point in your application, it may be a point of interest for some gap year people or those of you simply willing to kill two birds with one stone.

Think simple, think for yourself

Think. Do you know a place where…

    • people are cared for?
    • people go to solve their problems?
    • you’ve got the chance to communicate with a wide range of people?
    • you can have a stab at communication which may be difficult?
    • you can witness medical professionals doing their thing?
    • people will tell you how healthcare affects them?

The list could go on forever, but surely you know what I’m getting at. Look around and consider the community in which you live — hopefully reading this article will make all the different types of work experience more visible.

To sum up:

  • Choices for work experience are endless
  • Generally, what sets types of work experience apart is whether or not they are medical, involving care, structured or voluntary
  • Different communities offer different arrays of work experience, so it is important to look around you
  • No type of work experience is intrinsically better — they are simply different

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2019-08-15T15:48:56+00:00Work Experience|Comments Off on Types of work experience

About the Author:

I'm a medical student at Cambridge University, and one of the co-founders of 6med. I created the BMAT Crash Course and Interview Crash Course, and helped code BMAT Ninja and UKCAT Ninja. If you need a hand with anything, feel free to give me a shout!