Work experience in a caring or service role is now an essential step when getting into medical school. Medical schools will be looking for students who have gained a broad range of healthcare experience. Both students and doctors should use the advice and resources below to guide them through the process.
Advice for students
All UK medical schools now require applicants to have experience in a caring or service role, either paid or voluntarily, in health or related field, as well as direct observation healthcare.
You can get a placement in a range of healthcare settings, such as a GP practice, hospital or even internationally.
Keep in mind that it will take some time. You may need to apply to many places before you get a positive response.
How to get a placement
- Get in touch with GP practices. Contact practice managers and GPs to explain who you are and ask for their help. Many will ask you to complete an application form.
- Make the most of any contacts you have, such as relatives, neighbours or friends who work in healthcare or in a hospital.
- If you are still at school or college, speak to a career coordinator or teacher who can help you with arranging placements.
- If you can’t shadow a doctor, look at shadowing another healthcare professional like a pharmacist or physiotherapist.
Organisations that can help
There are a number of organisations that can help you to get a voluntary placement in a caring role, some of these include:
- GAP Medics
- Volunteering England
- Kissing it Better
- St John’s Ambulance
- Royal College of General Practitioners
The BMA does not encourage healthcare professionals to charge students for placements, although there may be instances where you could be asked to cover costs such as administration. Don't be afraid to ask what, if any, costs you may be asked to pay before starting your placement.
Top tips when on a placement
- Dress smartly as you would for a job interview.
- Be aware that some patients may wish to be seen without a student present. Don’t take this personally.
- Remember that patient confidentiality is important. You must not, under any circumstances, discuss patient issues outside of the department or practice you are based in. Be aware that you may be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement.
- It would be inappropriate for you to see a patient that is known to you socially, whether it be a family member or friend. If this happens you should tell the person who is supervising you and leave the room.
- Make sure you tell your placement what you expect to get out of it and let them know if there is anything that you would like to do or learn whilst you're there.
- Keep a log/ daily diary of what you did and saw. This can help solidify what you learn, but is also an important reference tool when you are writing a personal statement and preparing for your medical school interviews.
- Try to speak to a diverse range of staff. Time with other healthcare workers can offer a great insight into the multi-disciplinary approach to healthcare.
- Ask questions and show enthusiasm. Ask the doctors about what they think are the qualities of a good doctor, ask them about their work patterns, lifestyle or whether they would choose medicine again as a career.
- Talk to patients - remember to be polite and introduce yourself as a medical school applicant on work experience.
- Be proactive and offer a pair of helping hands at every opportunity.
Advice for doctors
As part of our work to widen participation in medicine the BMA encourages all doctors, where possible, to take on students who request work experience as a part of their application to medical school.
Practical tips for taking on work experience students
- Be aware of the commitment and make sure you have the time and capacity to be actively involved to ensure the experience is rewarding for both yourself and the student.
- Check with your clinical director about what age restrictions are in place for applicants.
- The BMA would advise restricting actual patient contact and observational experience to those students already committed to applying to medical school, like sixth form students.
- If you get applications from younger students there are often alternative opportunities that these pupils can benefit from, such as: having a discussion about your work, shadowing a practice manager or help finding alternative placements like in local pharmacies, hospices or care homes.
- You may wish to use an application form if you are receiving a high number of enquiries. This could include what type of experience you can offer as a workplace, a confidentiality statement, information on dress (smart, clean, professional) and what they can expect from their time in the placement.
- Charging students for work experience placements is not encouraged. However, where genuine costs are incurred, it would be reasonable to pass on administration fees to students, if you are not able to absorb the costs.
- Many doctors decide only to offer placements to students with applicable GCSE/equivalent grades, with the current requirement for most medical schools generally at least eight A/A* at GCSE, including sciences. It's up to individuals as to whether to check GCSE grades, but means you can concentrate on opportunities for those that are more likely to be accepted into medicine or related degrees.
- Where possible, work observation should take place outside the observer’s immediate locality, so students are not sitting in on consultations with people they may know.
Patient and confidentiality issues
Doctors must be very clear about the importance of confidentiality before observers or work experience students begin their placements.
Keep in mind that you as a doctor retain responsibility for any breaches of confidentiality, so it's important you are prepared.
What to think about:
- getting a confidentiality agreement signed before the placement goes ahead, so you are both in agreement and have full understanding of what is expected
- draw up a consent form for patients to sign, so that observers and work experience students present in consultations are there with the explicit consent of the patient
- talk to patients at the beginning of their consultation, without the observer present, about who the observer is and why they are there. Explain that they can change their mind at any time without prejudice to the care they receive
- publicise information in waiting rooms or on appointment reminders that observers may be present in their appointments, so they are aware that they may be asked for their consent at the time.
Formal schemes and outreach programmes
Formal schemes offering work experience and placements to those applying to medicine exist throughout the UK, with medical professionals and medical students playing a key role in volunteering their time and workplaces.
These organised outreach programmes are designed to take students who have the potential to enter medicine, assisting with medical school applications, personal statements and interview preparation, as well as exam and study help.
How to take part in schemes and programmes
Many schemes are set up in conjunction with outreach programmes run by medical schools or co-ordinated by deaneries throughout the country.
What you can do:
- look at the medical school you attended or one located close to where you currently live or work
- check websites, use your contacts and get in touch to find out how you can take part as a medical professional
- try signing up to mentoring schemes like those offered by the The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF)
- GP practices can also work together to set up more formal schemes between them, creating placement opportunities that students can apply for within their workplaces.