From the perspective of a year 13 student who got most of my useful work experience AFTER applying...
I think work experience in a hospital is essential to give a realistic view of what being a doctor entails. You might know that there'll be long hours, emotional distress and difficult decisions involved, but you don't know the impact that these things will have on YOU until you actually experience it yourself (as much as an applicant can, that is). Shadowing a paediatric consultant for 10 hours (sore feet alert!), seeing kids with almost no quality of life left, sitting in on a meeting where a mother was told her child was getting put into care... these put everything in perspective for me, and I imagine it would've been enough to put off some of the year 11/12s on placement with me, who tbh didn't seem all that commited.
On the other hand, shadowing in certain specialties may not be representative of the entire career, meaning people may get skewed views, thinking all surgeons do is cut people up, etc...
I found GP work experience helpful because, in all honesty, it made me realise the sheer amount of paperwork/admin aspect involved, and how boring it can get at times
Having both hospital and GP w.e. is ideal to be able to compare different types of healthcare.
It's the acquisition of work experience that's the problem... Open for rant:
Obvious problems: people in remote areas who need to try much harder than others to get placements. People with medical contacts sometimes get it easy. Some hospitals don't offer w.e. at all.
In my NHS trust (Newcastle), all hospital w.e. must be applied for through school careers advisors. When you go to a crappy school like mine which doesn't get offered placements by the trust, you're a bit screwed. I had to kick up a huge fuss with my school and the NHS placement lady, eventually getting the aforementioned paeds placement at the end of year 13, after receiving my offers. It was the most well-organised placement, about 50 students on each of the 3 weeks, many from the local private schools. We got booklets with questions to fill in (basically prompts for 'reflection'), information booklets about the NHS, an induction day, got to watch a live video link of a kidney transplant, as well as 2 days of shadowing a consultant in our preferred specialty... I was sat there with all these lucky y12s thinking life would've been so much easier if I had been able to do this last year.
My point is, there should be some sort of standard work experience application system across the country so no one is at a disadvantage. Easier said than done, I know, but the current situation seems so unfair.
Volunteering felt at first like a hoop to jump through for me, but I ended up quite enjoying volunteering at a care home. However, I don't think it should be regarded so highly by med schools - empathy, a caring attitude, responsibility and communication skills can all be demonstrated through other activities, and anything appropriate (caring for family members, part time job working with public..) should be given just as much credit.
But overall, it's all down to how much the individual personally gains from their experiences. If you get weeks and weeks of w.e. but just sit there silently not asking any questions, you're not gonna learn as much as someone who has just one week but talks to different members of the MDT, the patients, asks the Dr potent questions, etc. Maybe it is a box-ticking activity in a way, but if you approach it with that attitude, you won't be able to answer the most important question which is "Is medicine really for me?"
Edit: oops, rambled on for longer than intended
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