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Work experience - advice for doctors

Your wellbeing

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.

For medical professionals, it is a practical way you can provide an opportunity for all students, no matter what their background, to experience, understand and enter the profession.

  • Why is work experience important

    The process of applying to medical school in the UK now requires all applicants to have work experience.

    Applicants must demonstrate, through either paid and voluntary work in health or related areas, their commitment to the profession, suitability to a career in the care sector plus an understanding of what a career in medicine means.

    For students from disadvantaged backgrounds getting work experience can be difficult, with the current ad hoc system benefitting those with family, friends and social connections who are medics.

    We've put together some practical and ethical advice for doctors wanting to offer work experience and shadowing opportunities to students, whether it be a casual arrangement in their workplace or through a formal scheme or university outreach programme.

  • Practical tips for taking on work experience students

    Being involved with work experience and shadowing is valuable but can be time consuming, especially in the beginning.

    Creating an even playing field for young people considering medicine

    Read GP Naureen Bhatti's blog about 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. Students are more likely to be inspired when seeing role models caring for patients, so it's important to make time for them during placements.

    If possible there should be some protected time during and after consultations or at the end of the day to discuss what has happened, in order to reflect and give both of you time to ask questions and give feedback.

    What to consider

    • Some hospital departments have a restriction to those over 18 years old. This may be too late for secondary school applicants, but could be beneficial to graduate entry applicants who may often have done clinical or science based degrees. As a starting point, check whether any existing arrangements already exist with your Clinical Director.
    • GP practices generally have the flexibility to make decisions independently and also know the patients in order to more easily facilitate work experience for students.
    • If you are not constricted by department or practice guidelines the BMA would still advise restricting actual patient contact and observational experience to those students already committed to applying to medical school, like sixth form students. In the BMA’s view only those 16 or over should be allowed into clinical areas – and they should of course be informed that they won’t be participating in clinical work.
    • You may well get applications from younger students and there are often alternative opportunities that these pupils can benefit from, such as having a discussing with you 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.
    • When starting spend time discussing the student’s career plans, what they already know and give them an opportunity to ask questions about you, your experiences and your specialty. Now is the time to talk about your job, your specialty and why you chose a career in medicine.
    • 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 8 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. 
  • 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 retain responsibility for any breaches of confidentiality, so it's important you are prepared.

    What to think about

    • You might want to have any work experience students sign a confidentiality agreement before the placement goes ahead, so you are both in agreement and have full understanding of what is expected of them.
    • Observers and work experience students should only be present in consultations if patients have given their explicit consent, preferably in writing. It may be advisable to have a consent form drawn up that they can sign and keep with patient notes.
    • It's worth taking extra time to talk to patients at the beginning of their consultatation, without the observer present, about who the observer is and why they are there, and to also explain that they can change their mind at any time without prejudice to the care they receive.
    • To give patients more warning you may also want to 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.
    • Where possible, work observation should take place outside the observer’s immediate locality – it would be inappropriate for students to sit in on consultations with people they know socially, whether it be a family member or friend.
  • Formal schemes and outreach programmes

    Formal schemes offering work experience and placements to those applying to medicine exist through 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

    • Many schemes are set up in conjunction with outreach programmes run by medical schools or co-ordinated by deaneries throughout the country.
    • A great place to start is by looking at the medical school you attended or one located close to where you currently live or work. Each university is required to have widening participation outreach schemes and programmes into higher education for all courses, so there should be full time employees that work on these. 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). Every year SMF match young people with mentors in their area of interest, giving them a chance to learn about their chosen profession, including medicine, and gain valuable connections.
    • 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. This may require initial time setting up between practices but can mean the work is spread out. It also means your scheme could reach many more students than if done individually.
  • Useful resources

    • The BMA has produced a comprehensive guide on how to become a doctor, with information, advice and resources for any student, no matter what their path, applying to medicine.
    • The Who's in Health campaign, led by the Medical Schools Council, has released lesson plans produced by medical students. The session plans are for 7-11 year olds at primary level, with the aim to inspire children to a career in healthcare and assist volunteers in their outreach work.
    • Primary Futures is a free programme for state primary schools that aims to widen the horizons and aspirations of children. Their programmes run on volunteers from many different sectors, including healthcare.
    • The Severn Faculty of the RCGP have produced a comprehensive resource guide to work experience, including information for doctors on becoming mentors.
    • The Social Mobility Foundation is a UK wide charity established to make practical improvement for people from lower socio economic backgrounds.
    • The Brightside Trust is a charity that helps young people access education and career pathways.
    • Help me I'm a Medic is a social enterprise based in Oxford. They are always looking for volunteers to help attend their events and conferences to talk to aspiring doctors about medicine.
    • MyBigCareer is a charity that works to break down barriers to social mobility. They have set up mentoring and work experience schemes within medicine, matching young students with medical professionals.
    • Pure Potential is an independent organisation that holds regular events. Get in touch with them if you want to help set up an event or volunteer.