Securing a formal work experience placement is not always a prerequisite for most medical schools. However, undertaking work experience will undoubtedly bolster your application, while giving you an opportunity to reflect carefully on your decision to apply for medicine. Read these excerpts from the updated new-edition of Getting into Medical School 2024 Entry to get insight into why work experience is key and the first steps to securing your work experience placement.

Why is work experience important?

Conducting work experience is typically an important part of your application: in doing work experience, you will be able to use your insights to communicate what it is about medicine that makes you want to pursue a career in the field, while being able to reflect on the less glamorous aspects of the job. It will also give you the opportunity to discuss your interests with doctors, which will allow you to garner a great deal of information about their working lives.

With this in mind, it is worth having these conversations with your own doctors, or even family and friends who work in the field of medicine. You could ask them about their time studying medicine at university and about the career options and prospects for those graduating in the field. Similarly, it is worth asking what their thoughts are on current issues and affairs in medicine and within the NHS. Remember to ask about the negative aspects as well as the positive; practising doctors are best placed to give you an accurate and honest answer.

Obtaining medical work experience can be difficult, so it is useful to get your applications in to local GP surgeries and hospitals in good time, as there can be waiting lists. Ask your school for support with obtaining work experience, as careers departments may have useful contacts.

Most work experience placements will involve shadowing a doctor. This is useful for a number of reasons:

  • help you in determining whether you really want to be a doctor
  • demonstrate your commitment to studying medicine
  • give you an insight into the varying nature of a doctor’s working day, as well as their roles and responsibilities
  • provide invaluable opportunities to discuss your interests in medicine
  • if you make a good impression, you may be able to obtain a reference which your teacher can use to support your application

How to arrange work experience

In some cases, your school will be able to support you by helping to organise work experience in the field of medicine, as they may have connections with local GP surgeries or hospitals. However, it is likely that only one work experience placement will be available through this route, so at some point in the process, you will need to show some initiative and organise some yourself. Where possible, you can try and utilise any contacts that your friends and family might have. The alternative approach is to contact local GP practices and hospitals to discuss the possibility of undertaking a placement.

To obtain a work experience placement, you should:

  • research local practices or hospitals
  • write a formal letter or email
  • contact the appropriate department to identify the name of the person who will receive your letter – in hospitals, there is likely to be a dedicated individual in each area or ward that deals with these requests
  • ask a teacher at your school if they will be your referee.

In addition, it is worth trying to secure placements in a medical environment, even if the role itself is not directly related to healthcare. Working on the reception desk in a GP surgery, for example, will still involve contact with patients and healthcare professionals, and can provide a valuable insight into their varying roles.

How work experience and voluntary work support your application

When you come to write the personal statement section of your UCAS application, you will need to reflect on your practical experience of medicine. While you will need to communicate what you did or what you observed, it is important not to simply list things. The admissions tutors will be looking for what you were able to take away from the experience in terms of what you learned about yourself, key aspects of a doctor’s daily life and any attributes that they exhibited that made them good at their job. It is likely that some medical schools will question you about the contents of your personal statement, so it is important that you are able to talk in more depth about the points you mention.

For example, if you were to write: ‘During the year that I worked on Sunday evenings at St Sebastian’s Hospice, I saw a number of patients who were suffering from cancer and it was interesting to observe the treatment they received and watch its effects.’ A generous interviewer will ask you about the management of cancer, and you have an opportunity to impress if you can explain the use of drugs, radiotherapy, diet, exercise, etc. The other benefit of work in a medical environment is that you may be able to make a good impression on the senior staff you have worked for. If they are prepared to write a brief reference and send it to your school, the teacher writing your reference will be able to quote from it.

Despite the recent pandemic, medical school admissions officers will still be looking for an in-depth understanding of the medical profession, including what the career entails and the values and skills required to be a doctor, so as well as talking to doctors and medical students, there are numerous online resources that will assist you in obtaining this knowledge. Free virtual medical work experience is now being provided by both Brighton and Sussex Medical School and the Royal College of General Practitioners. While they are not designed to replace face-to-face work experience entirely, completing these programmes can be really beneficial in supplementing your understanding and honing your application.


Would you like to keep reading?  Buy the new edition of Getting into Medical School 2024 Entry by Adam Cross & Emily Lucas to get ahead of the competition and win a place on this highly sought after course.