Medicine Summer Discussion Series - Is work experience really worthwhile? Watch

Hippokrates
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#21
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(Original post by Becca-Sarah)
Good point - I can't think of anyone I was at school with who decided against medicine after work exp. I do, however, know people at medical school who have left to do other things or have alternative plans for after graduation.



There's some area in Scotland where the local hospital is pretty much the only healthcare centre for many, many miles and it doesn't take work experience people. I think the students there had to get their local MP to appeal to the medical school to say that it was genuinely impossible for them to get work experience.
Sounds like a good MP. I know someone who didn't apply but she got all the way up to sitting the UKCAT and decided to wanted a lab job, I think it was the hours and stress that bothered her though because she was ill a lot and was in and out of hospital as a child with adrenal gland problems if I remember correctly.
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manic_fuzz
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I felt that work experience was particularly important for me applying - not just in a hospital though. I originally wanted to be a nursery nurse and it was working as one for a week which showed how boring I found it. In terms of work experience in a hospital, I immensely enjoyed it and it definitely confirmed that I wanted to study medicine. I can't quite say if it was representative considering I've only finished 1st year on a traditional course. I'm not quite sure if work experience should be required in the application process - especially considering how much it can vary and the ability to specialise (and essentially avoid certain areas of medicine in the long run) once you are qualified. I purposely applied to a hospital in central London rather than where I live (Cornwall) because I recognise that my local hospital just has a very small number of elderly people and I wouldn't have gotten to see half as much as I did, so I'd assume both situations would give different things to reflect upon so I'm unsure if it's a fair comparison. Additionally, although work experience may not be impossible to get, I do believe that some people may not be able to afford to travel to places which will take them.

In terms of volunteering, I recognised that it was a box to tick but I didn't bother going out and doing any volunteering work because I knew that I wouldn't enjoy working in a charity shop etc so would rather not have wasted my time with it. Instead I just highlighted the volunteering opportunities that I was already involved with before choosing medicine. However I do believe that volunteering is essentially a hoop to jump through, but I feel that the skills gained from it (i.e. commitment) could indeed be shown through other means.
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AspiringGenius
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(Original post by Becca-Sarah)
There's some area in Scotland where the local hospital is pretty much the only healthcare centre for many, many miles and it doesn't take work experience people. I think the students there had to get their local MP to appeal to the medical school to say that it was genuinely impossible for them to get work experience.
This is exactly the case I meant- just like any other part of the med application there needs to be individual consideration. However for the vast majority of candidates, getting medical work experience is a pretty reasonable expectation to have imo.
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Asklepios
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(Original post by AspiringGenius)
This is exactly the case I meant- just like any other part of the med application there needs to be individual consideration. However for the vast majority of candidates, getting medical work experience is a pretty reasonable expectation to have imo.
Another problem is that if you have medical contacts then arranging work experience is a piece of cake, whereas those without any do really have to work hard sending lots of letters and phoning up a countless number of places. One way to counter this is to make all hospitals have an application only system that is open to anyone. However, if all prospective medical students have to apply for work experience then it kinda defeats the point because you're basically going through medicine applications twice :lol: Hence, I think medical schools should just stop expecting candidates to have work experience and this puts them all on a level ground. But then you may not be selecting the people who want to medicine for the right reasons so the whole thing is very debateable.

What we really need is two medical schools - one with high emphasis on work experience and one without and compare the dropout/transfer rates.
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AspiringGenius
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(Original post by Asklepios)
Another problem is that if you have medical contacts then arranging work experience is a piece of cake, whereas those without any do really have to work hard sending lots of letters and phoning up a countless number of places.
This is an unfortunate inequality, however although proof by example alone isn't proof at all, I'm not the only person in my social situation who has managed to find plenty of work experience through perseverence despite not having it all laid out in front of you. Yes it;s unfair but it is not impossible and in general, not finding work experience has more to do with motivation than it literally not being available.

You could argue that having medical contacts helps you immensly in writing personal statements and even in terms of academics- what subjects you do, having doctor parents is going to give you an advantage. However it doesn't mean expectations should be lowered for applicants not in those circumstances.
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raveen789
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I feel that work experience is quite important for some people. I did 3 weeks of work exp in a GP surgery and saw numerous things! But that's not my point. Before my work experience I was a little bit naive and thought GPs have it easy and work 9-5 and that their job was generally boring. After my experience I understood there was a lot more to the job and real pressures that primary care faces. For example it was not as simple as seeing patients all day, there was points when GPs had a lot of paper work and obviously quite important paper work such as reviewing medication for all their patients, home visits and calling patients not to mention referral letters for any patient that needs to go hospital! This is on top of all the patients they have to see. It seemed that GPs are on the go most of the time. With some changes being introduced to primary care which also has something to do with A+E overhaul (I don't quite know everything) I believe GPs are being made to work out of hours. They also have a lot longer shifts then what I previously stated, often 11 hour days every day. I understand that other specialities have long shifts too so that was not so much the issue but just the nature of medicine. Finally I got to understand that for a lot of GPs th surgery is like a business but they struggle to do the business side of things whilst doing their normal practice.

What I'm trying to say is that work experience opened my eyes to all this, it did make me questions whether I'd ever want to be a GP or medicine as a whole. But for me personally it reinforced my decision to apply again. It's also important to remember GPs generally keep a strong relationship with most of their patients, here empathy really comes into play. All of this together really does exhaust you out as a doctor and I'm sure other specialities are the same but a lot of people think GPs have it a lot easier. Thy might do I'm not a medical student so I don't fully know but they deffinatly work very hard more than I originally thought so my work experience was beneficial!
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AtomicMan
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I already knew the skills a Dr would need, but w/e made me realise in what situations a dr needs them in. I also realised I will have to invest in comfy shoes for all the walking around, and that FY1s seem to occupy many roles that a secretary does.

Volunteering was abit of a hoop exercis, but I gained alot of confidence from working with ppl I wouldnt usually, so I think both are valuable.

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yawnmonster
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I think a week is useful, but probably no more than that. Mine was weird, I did an 'official' sort of hospital organised week and spent very little time with any doctors, mostly with MDT members which was interesting but I don't know how much I learnt. Then one of my friends' dad's knew an anaesthetist at another hospital so I basically spent a week with the anaesthetists in theatre which was again, probably not the most representative experience. But it was useful, again for the reasons people have stated above:

a) How long the day is
b) Standing on feet all day

But also in my case, understanding the importance of MDT and the fact you can talk to people who have been in the profession for a while and see what they think.

It's funny though, it definitely doesn't give you a TRUE picture - I had very little patient contact which is so much about what is (for me) the best part of medicine, and also sometimes the hardest bit because obviously patients are less understanding of a work experience kid than a medical student. I suppose that is why medical schools are maybe keen for voluntary work - and that actually involves some work.

I think nursing home or other volunteering is more important in terms of patient contact but again, this has become a bit of a 'tick box' thing which makes me feel somewhat uneasy if people are doing it for the sake of it - but on the other hand a volunteer is a volunteer.

I found getting a GP placement impossible, but I suppose that is down to the intimacy of many of the consultations.

I enjoyed all my work experience, think it is moderately useful, but I think these 'hoops' canididates have to jump through are getting to the stage where everyone has them, don't know medical schools differentiate between people at all.
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ab192
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I think work experience is good in that it gives you a general outline of a particular doctor's day to day life. But depending on the specialty that you get an attachment in and how long you spend with that doctor, you may pick up misconceptions about the specialty or medicine in general. For example, I got a two day attachment with a vascular surgeon before I applied and he made me watch him in theatre throughout. A lot of people in medical school seemed to have similar experiences in surgery and many of them seem to think that surgeons do nothing but operate all day, everyday which is obviously wrong.
As most people don't get more than one or two short attachments it is unlikely they will have an understanding of different specialities or the less 'glamorous' aspects of a doctors life such as meetings and audits.
Furthermore, a lot of the questions asked at interviews are about the softer skills observed during your time, which I think would be better assessed by things that the applicant has actually done rather than just observed.
Finally, I think too much weight is given to experience shadowing a doctor which can be very difficult to attain and is not necessarily something that can be helped by the applicant. One can learn about the career and gain softer skills like communication skills without ever shadowing a doctor.
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suncake
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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:
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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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Stanley90
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(Original post by gozatron)
I'll put my neck out here and suggest it is simply another hoop to jump though, like much of the application process.

Personally I see work experience as an applicant as very superficial and to a degree, misinforming. To me work experience should literally be an experience of the work to put it so crudely. For this you need a degree of responsibility and knowledge to carry out the day to day tasks of the job you're trying out, which obviously can only be gained by actually being a doctor or to a lesser extent a medical student. I don't believe you can fully understand something until you actually do it so being a work experience applicant shadowing a doctor all day is all well and good but you never truly understand their position. You have no responsibilities, no worries in the back of your mind, no hands on action, no thought process with a patient, no feelings about a situation, no tiredness after a series of shift etc. This all leads to failure of your intended goal.

I think medical schools would be better off focusing on assessing other personally qualities of the applicants that would suit a good doctor. Genuinely, do you know of many applicants who've go on work experience and then decide against pursuing medicine?
I can definitely see where you're coming from here but what I would say is that if a person does shadowing work experience and still doesn't have some insight into what the job entails, even if it's to a less than realistic degree, then this is most likely due to either a failure of that individual's observing/processing skills, or it could be down to the fact they haven't spent enough time doing it.

As an applicant I always felt the work experience thing was just another hoop to jump through which was just a major disadvantage for people like me who had no family members or family friends in the medical profession who could actually "hook me up". However, as a current clinical student I now, more than ever, see the intended benefits.

The reason we can't just sit applicants down in front of BBC's "Junior Doctors" is the same reason you need to gain the experience first hand, and that reason is simply to give you an idea of how medicine can in actual fact be boring. I know it sounds stupid, especially to current medical students who have forgotten how it felt being an applicant, but the fact is that most applicants have this romanticized idea of what being a doctor entails. The only way to combat this is to make sure they experience the boring aspects of it first hand and this isn't gonna happen when you sit in front of a highly condensed, dramatically manipulated reality TV show like junior doctors. But IT IS gonna happen when you're sat behind a GP watching him type silently into his computer whilst the patient is is sat there, also silently, waiting for a simple prescription for their recent eczema flare-up or whatever, and then this repeats for at least 95% of the patients that day. It would also happen in hospital when you're shadowing a 3 hour long ward round and 2 hours in it begins to dawn on you... "hold on a second, maybe being a doctor isn't exactly like House seems to portray it".

For this reason, I genuinely feel the more work experience you get the better it is, because if you only get a limited amount of time then there's a big chance it won't put you off medicine at all due to it being your first experience of it and it being the "honey-moon phase" where you pay little attention to the boring/tedious bits and only see the most exciting bits.

To be honest, it's not just applicants who have this unrealistic idea. I remember in pre-clinicals, even though I was in hospital/GP once a week, I STILL had this idea that once the slog of the lecture years was over and I was in hospital full time med school would be amazing and this was my motivation for getting through it! In reality, 2 weeks into my first firm I decided sleep trumps non-compulsory ward rounds EVERY TIME, and this became a continuous theme. There's a reason why the more you progress in medicine the less enthusiastic you become about certain aspects of it.

At this point I'll say that although there's no way the amount of work experience applicants have can give them a real expectation of what being a doctor is like (heck, I still don't even know what's it's gonna be like), it's still needed regardless to at least ensure they have some inkling that it's not all glamour and glory.
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crazylemon
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#32
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Personally I found most of my work experience has not been much of a transformative massive use. I think mainly a tickbox. Apart from possibly my pharmacy work, because I knew half the commonly prescribed drugs just from dishing them out which was actually quite useful. Hospital work experience was a bit of fun but actual revelations were sparse/non-existent (not that I couldn't spin some to tick the reflection box as is done with firms now).
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Before i say my opinion, i think its important for everyone to note that the UK is virtually the only country that emphasises work experience. Not an argument in itself, but it shows there are alternatives to using it in the way we do.


I think work experience can be useful, and is certainly better than nothing. However, i also feel way too much importance is placed on it and when its availability is so variable and dependent on contacts, it should have no place in a formal admissions process. And if it does have a place, that needs to be clearly and explicitly stated on an easily findable part of the website.

What we need is universal work experience coverage at every hospital so that everyone can get at least a week. Ideally getting experience of two specialities. I heard the Oxford psych team discussing this just the other day, so maybe things are improving in just this way.

(Original post by Asklepios)
What we really need is two medical schools - one with high emphasis on work experience and one without and compare the dropout/transfer rates.
Oxbridge vs elsewhere? UK vs anywhere else in Europe?

(Original post by AspiringGenius)
... in general, not finding work experience has more to do with motivation than it literally not being available.
I'd argue its to do with knowledge of the admissions process and just how important it is to fight for such experience, rather than motivation.

(Original post by yawnmonster)
probably not the most representative experience. But it was useful, again for the reasons people have stated above:

a) How long the day is
b) Standing on feet all day
I think this part shows exactly why work experience isn't that useful. When you only have school to compare to, its things like how you didn't get to go back until 6, or talking to colleagues, that stand out... things which is true of virtually every career there is! How does that help you decide on medicine over anything else?

(Sorry to pick on just you as other have done exactly the same. No doubt you'll reply to tell me what you actually meant, but it was stated so succinctly here i couldn't help but quote! )
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Becca-Sarah
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(Original post by nexttime)
Before i say my opinion, i think its important for everyone to note that the UK is virtually the only country that emphasises work experience. Not an argument in itself, but it shows there are alternatives to using it in the way we do.
Interesting, hadn't realised that before. Presumably they don't have increased drop out rates due to having other significant hoops instead - like I presume if you do a 4 yr pre-med degree and then get into medical school in the US, you're unlikely to not finish it... (Not comparing to Europe as I suspect drop out is often foreign students having language/culture issues).
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Ava-
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(Original post by Hippokrates)
I thought they interpreted the scans? I just found endless ankle x-rays in a dark room a bit depressing.
This is a bit off-topic, but is the general consensus that Radiography w/e is a bit pointless?
I've got myself some this summer (before joining college this September.)

Should I still strive to get much more in different departments?
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AspiringGenius
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(Original post by nexttime)

I'd argue its to do with knowledge of the admissions process and just how important it is to fight for such experience, rather than motivation.
I'd argue the other way around. Even if you don't have all the information handed to you, it doesn't take much to make a few google searches and find out about medicine admissions- pretty much all questions direct to TSR in some way. It's not like the information is hard to find.

Surely not having knowledge of how medical admissions work in the UK ( and hence the importance of work experience/voluntary work ) when you apply here shows a lack of motivation.
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  • TSR Support Team
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(Original post by Becca-Sarah)
Interesting, hadn't realised that before. Presumably they don't have increased drop out rates due to having other significant hoops instead - like I presume if you do a 4 yr pre-med degree and then get into medical school in the US, you're unlikely to not finish it... (Not comparing to Europe as I suspect drop out is often foreign students having language/culture issues).
I think US schools might consider volunteering etc. Just like how being good at sports is also seen as important and can help you get in for subjects that have no bearing whatsoever.

My french friend said the drop out rates are quite high. Anecdotal though.

He also told me about the job allocation system. Again, purely anecdotal but what wikipedia says doesn't seem to go agains this...They don't have foundation jobs or anything - this is for speciality posting lasting in theory the rest of your life: Apparently they do a national exam instead of finals. Based on this, you are given a rank in the country out of like 6,000. Then, on a particular day you go to a stadium in Paris and they call up guy no'1 and he comes up on stage and reads into the microphone his chosen speciality and location. That position is ticked off the list. Then guy no'2, etc etc all the way down to 6000. No other criteria are considered. Sounds. Mental. I'd love to see if this is verifiably true!
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  • TSR Support Team
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(Original post by AspiringGenius)
I'd argue the other way around. Even if you don't have all the information handed to you, it doesn't take much to make a few google searches and find out about medicine admissions- pretty much all questions direct to TSR in some way. It's not like the information is hard to find.

Surely not having knowledge of how medical admissions work in the UK ( and hence the importance of work experience/voluntary work ) when you apply here shows a lack of motivation.
I do see what you mean, and i think TSR is a great resource regarding this. But still... imagine someone who has had no advice from anyone. Every other degree has no such requirements. TSR says these things but ultimately is just a series of anonymous people saying stuff with generally no evidence to back themselves up and you teachers have mentioned nothing like this. Medical school websites are often vague and/or bury any mention of work experience way down in their list of preferences and generally have a message about how 'they understand it can sometimes be difficult...' or similar. You're then knocked back by a couple of negative e-mails when you tried to get experience... I think it can be easy to misinterpret and give up. Someone with a better school or medical parents will not make this mistake.

I've of course mentioned my preferred solution: easily available work-experience programs at every trust, and transparent list of requirements on uni websites.
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gozatron
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(Original post by nexttime)
Based on this, you are given a rank in the country out of like 6,000. Then, on a particular day you go to a stadium in Paris and they call up guy no'1 and he comes up on stage and reads into the microphone his chosen speciality and location. That position is ticked off the list. Then guy no'2, etc etc all the way down to 6000. No other criteria are considered. Sounds. Mental. I'd love to see if this is verifiably true!
That is incredible! Its like those US sport drafts...
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(Original post by gozatron)
That is incredible! Its like those US sport drafts...
Apparently the top 1000 or so all choose Paris, and rural areas are invariably left with the very bottom of the pile, which doesn't sound like it provides optimal care.

What they really need is some randomising factor. Some test or something that would be completely pointless other than to randomise applications so that the good doctors don't all end up in the capital. What's the French for 'Situational Judgement Test'?
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