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

Becca-Sarah
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Welcome to week 2 of the TSR Medicine Summer Discussion Thread Series! We want to hear your opinions on our discussion topic, and this week we're talking about work experience (and volunteering placements) and how useful it is to you guys as applicants.

So, is work experience just a tick in the box?

Everyone writes in their personal statement about how much they learned from their work experience or volunteering placements, but what did you really learn? What actually taught you the most about medicine?

Can shows like 24hrs in A&E, Junior Doctors, or even Holby City adequately replace the experience of trailing after a doctor like a lost puppy dog?

It'd be great to see what the current medics think of this weeks topic too - how much do you remember of your work experience and how accurate was it at showing you what medicine is really like?
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star10159
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Yes I got to see some stuff but most of the time I was following doctors and listening to them speak (to what at that time sounded like) their own language.

To me, it's not just about seeing the doctors, but also looking at the patients, how they react to different diagnoses and treatments and getting to see the boring mundane side of medicine as well as the amazing side portrayed by shows. Not to mention the standing up for countless hours during rounds! How do they do that? Med schools should have endurance tests for that, seriously!

So overall: yes it was worth it. But really, anything over a weeks of shadowing would probably drive me mad.
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carcinoma
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Considering reflection and reflective practice is becoming such a big part of modern medicine. It is also a GMC requirement with revalidation and Tomorrows doctors.

Therefore, why shouldn't potential medical students show they are able to reflect on their experiences prior to being admitted?
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Hippokrates
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Short answer Yes

I think work experience made me realize how long the working day is and how much time doctors spend on their feet. I actually found it all really interesting (apart from radiography but that's not doctors so doesn't really matter). I think it made me really admire stroke doctors. It's good for knocking some reality into the misconception that medicine is all about saving lives.

Volunteering was much more useful, I think I've grown in confidence, communication skills and knowledge of the NHS. Having to talk to people who are confused that you don't usually come into contact with is good experience.
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purplefrog
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I will admit, I initially approached work experience as something "to do", but immediately after the first day, I learnt so much. And I had absolutely no idea about how much time you spend on your feet!!! I learnt lots by seeing lots of different doctors treat patients in their own style. This reassured me that there is not a rigid mould one needs to fit into to practice medicine, so long as you are sincere and professional. I think those two things (amount of time spent standing daily and the personal approach to practice) were what I gained most from work experience.

I wouldn't say shows reflect an actual day as you generally do need to be there to see how long one case takes to do a full history, write up the notes, do investigations etc. and then juggle that with lots of other tasks at the same time. You also miss little things about the 'system' in the shows, all those small interactions with nurses, HCAs, tentative discussions with seniors, bedside teaching, seeing a F1 go to the end of the earth and back to negotiate a chest X-ray etc., the friction between team members on treatment plans... it just hits home seeing how everything works (or doesn't!) when it is right in front of your face and to witness how staff handle it. And not to mention having a "full day" where a surgical ward round starts at 7.30am (the one week of that nearly killed me!), meaning you have to wake up extra-early, and commute in and you leave a lot later than 5pm is quite a different experience.

So yes, I do think work experience is really worthwhile. It's just a royal pain in the arse to get and those with connections often have a far better ride. I know my post is full of waffle and lots of anecdotes - but I feel it was seeing/experiencing these things that helped me somewhat understand what it means to work as a doctor. That and the fact that you get to speak to lots of doctors and get mega excited when you can apply some of your AS biology to an actual patient
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Becca-Sarah
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(Original post by carcinoma)
Considering reflection and reflective practice is becoming such a big part of modern medicine. It is also a GMC requirement with revalidation and Tomorrows doctors.

Therefore, why shouldn't potential medical students show they are able to reflect on their experiences prior to being admitted?
I'm not saying they shouldn't. Someone on the forum made a point a while back that work experience was just "to tick a box, you know what doctors do already" so I thought we'd see if that was a shared opinion. Considering we're exposed to medicine through media quite a lot these days, do you think work shadowing (not their reflections on it, the actual experience) is still a massive thing that changes peoples minds? Or do applicants understand medicine quite a bit from other sources anyway?
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Becca-Sarah
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(Original post by Hippokrates)
Short answer Yes

I think work experience made me realize how long the working day is and how much time doctors spend on their feet. I actually found it all really interesting (apart from radiography but that's not doctors so doesn't really matter). I think it made me really admire stroke doctors. It's good for knocking some reality into the misconception that medicine is all about saving lives.

Volunteering was much more useful, I think I've grown in confidence, communication skills and knowledge of the NHS. Having to talk to people who are confused that you don't usually come into contact with is good experience.
You know doctors do imaging as a specialty though, as radiologists?
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Hippokrates
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(Original post by star10159)
Not to mention the standing up for countless hours during rounds! How do they do that? Med schools should have endurance tests for that, seriously!
.

(Original post by purplefrog)
. And I had absolutely no idea about how much time you spend on your feet!!!
I'm glad it's not just me, I thought I was just a wimp.
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Hippokrates
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(Original post by Becca-Sarah)
You know doctors do imaging as a specialty though, as radiologists?
I thought they interpreted the scans? I just found endless ankle x-rays in a dark room a bit depressing.
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Becca-Sarah
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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.
Yeh. They sit in a dark room interpreting the endless x-rays/CTs/MRIs etc...

Interventional radiologists do minimally invasive procedures, but diagnostic radiologists have little patient contact TTBOMK.
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Hippokrates
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(Original post by Becca-Sarah)
Yeh. They sit in a dark room interpreting the endless x-rays/CTs/MRIs etc...

Interventional radiologists do minimally invasive procedures, but diagnostic radiologists have little patient contact TTBOMK.
Definitely not for me then Although from what I hear it's a very competitive specialty so must have positive aspects.
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AspiringGenius
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I think getting medical work experience is very important for several reasons:

-It does give people who otherwise haven't seen the healthcare environment at work a realistic view of what medical proffessionals do on a daily basis
-It gives prospective medics the chance to speak to doctors who can give their experience of studying medicine and their concurrent career
-It gives the applicant the chance to see characteristics such as "empathy", "time management", "leadership" etc in action when doctors have to use them and it means when the candidate discusses such qualities in interviews, they aren't just parroting a list fo empty words.
-It shows the applicant has a certain level of comittment to Medicine and have gone out fo their way to arrange it and then spend a week or two of their time. I think years of volunteering means more in terms of comittment though.

In my experience, it was my work experience that got me my place at medical school (or offer ). When I was in the interview situation, I felt despite being anxious and stressed, that I knew when asked about the qualities of doctors and the role of doctors that I wouldn't have any problems in answering because I had seen their work.

I also know that when I study medicine, i am doing exactly what i want to do and don't have too rose tinted a view of what I am getting myself into. If I didn't have work experience, I would still have a false view of what doctors do and I'm sure for many people the difference between the false image and reality is enough to put people off.

One of the arguments that work experience should not be a requirement is that for many candidates it's impossible to find work experience. See while I think that individual circumstances should be considered (i.e. in the middle of the Scottish highlands I imagine it would be difficult) but I always find the word "impossible" is a bit melodramatic. Yes, it's hard, but all it takes is some perseverance. I don't have any people in my family who have been to university, nor do I know personally any doctors (until my work experience), but I managed to place a total of 9 weeks of work experience through relentlessly sending out letters and applying for any opportunity I could.
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sumsum123
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Applicants might think they know what the life of a doctor is like but a w.e placement can help maybe get rid of misconceptions like that medicine is like greys for example and learn alot more about the day to day activities. I really, really benefitted from my work experience placements. I had the idea of doing medicine at the start of college but wanted to see what I read online in practise. For one... I had no idea how much walking was involved! :laugh: I really struggled to keep up! It sort of confirmed that it was what I wanted to do as a career. On the other hand I also know someone who decided against medicine as a career after work experience so for some it can be a deal breaker!

It helped me get familiar with a hospital setting, learn more about the doctors role in a team environment and learn some cold truths! For example doctors are not always appreciated... often face hostility from patients. I even learnt about a weakness I had that I didn't even know about! It is very hard to get w.e if you have not planned on doing medicine previously but with perserverance it can be done. I got loads of rejections from hospitals and gps as I applied too late... hospitals had a year waiting list. I didn't take no for an answer instead I went to the work experience coordinators of the hospitals personally to persuade them to slot me in. I found the gp directory of all the gps in the city and called every single gp pleading and one of the last ones gave me a placement for a day after she said no to which I responded desperatly "please I really, really want to do a placement at the gp even if it is just for one day!". Once I got there, I got to stay for longer. It can be done and I will definitley reccommend it.

On the other side, I believe you can find alot of information about a doctors career from various websites, talking to doctors if you know any, reading medical student/doctor blogs, watching shows I suppose like junior dr, reading about it etc Though nonetheless I still believe though that you need work experience to see it all for yourself. Comparing my voluntary work vs my work experience placement, I learned more about medicine on w.e placements and developed skills that help me as a student from my voluntary work.
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gozatron
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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?
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jessjess
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I think it's worth it... I didn't really have an honest idea of medicine beforehand. It really emphasised all the hard work involved, as on TV all the hard/non interesting to viewers bits are usually cut out (I got home in the evening and literally went straight to bed just from all the walking about/being on my feet all the time!) and how its not just about being on the wards all the time. It helped with the whole why medicine thing (on my PS and in interview, as it was much easier to explain from experience instead of saying it looked rather cool on tv!) and chatting to/following the nurses and other staff etc gave me a proper idea of what they did so I was able to see and then explain to interviewers exactly why I didn't want to do other healthcare-y type jobs

Even though I wasn't in the placements for long, I got so much out of them, so I guess I would say getting work experience for me wasn't just ticking the box and tv shows definitely didn't show all the sides of medicine!


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Helenia
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(Original post by Hippokrates)
Definitely not for me then Although from what I hear it's a very competitive specialty so must have positive aspects.
Yes, you get to sit down all day and there's minimal patient contact.

I do think that work experience is useful, though I know how hard it can be to get for some people so I don't think universities should automatically weight it very heavily. I don't think that many teenagers really have a clue what being a doctor is like and think it's rather unwise to pick a job where you've never even been into that workplace and seen what the people actually do. We all know that Casualty, ER etc are nothing like real life, and Junior Doctors is not much better as it's so heavily edited and voice-overed to make it "dramatic."

It's impossible to really understand what it's like until you're doing it; even at med school I don't think you really necessarily appreciate exactly how being a doctor feels. But I think work exp at least gives you a taste and allows you to meet doctors and ask questions. Some work exp is definitely more useful than others though - I don't think going to theatre really has any value, though I'm sure it feels super-cool at the time.
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woodpecker
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I definitely think that work experience is a good idea - I thoroughly enjoyed mine! Like (I'm guessing) lots of applicants, I had virtually no idea of what actually happens on a hospital ward before doing work experience. I'd watched the TV shows like Junior Doctors and Holby City etc, and while I knew that they were TV shows and therefore are designed to entertain people and wouldn't be accurate at showing what really goes on (especially dramas like Holby!), I had nothing to compare them to, and therefore they were the only things I could base my opinion on.
Having gone on work experience, I don't enjoy shows like these nearly as much, as I can now see how inaccurate most of them are, but I would much prefer to work in an environment like the one I experienced in an actual hospital than those in medical dramas!! I now know so much more about a doctor's work, and how they have to work in a team with all the other healthcare professions, work long hours etc, and it's certainly reinforced my decision that medicine is what I want to do. Yes, it's superficial cos you're only there for a very limited time, have no actual responsibility etc, etc, but I think that a superficial experience is better than none at all!
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Asklepios
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Placements in hospitals/GPs were useful for me because they helped me understand more about the role of a doctor. I knew they diagnosed people and you get different specialities etc. But, seeing it from a doctor's viewpoint instead of patient allowed me to see how they worked with other health-care professionals. I also got a better idea of the workings of a hospital and the structure of the NHS. Other important things I picked up was seeing the way in which doctors communicated with patients and the immense amount of trust a patient has in a doctor. This alone, really encouraged me to apply for medicine. I also learnt more small things like the technical medical stuff behind some of the cases I saw and more about the specialities of the doctors I shadowed.

Tbf, I think programmes like Junior Doctors are quite good for some aspects of medicine, but can be less accurate for others. Obviously things like House and Scrubs over-glamourise medicine though but can still be useful imo.

In terms of the selection process, I think undertaking work experience should be credited under career exploration - after all wee need to make sure that as few people as possible drop out or switch to another career as training medical students uses up a large amount of resources. I heard somewhere it was £250 000 to train one doctor :eek: Although, I don't think work exp should be the only acceptable means of career exploration. Reading medical news/literature, internet research, speaking to doctors/other healthcare professionals etc. should be equally valid means of exploring the medical profession. The most important thing is not quantity but evidence that the applicant has learnt from his experience and is making an informed choice. This could be assessed at interview.

(Original post by Becca-Sarah)
Yeh. They sit in a dark room interpreting the endless x-rays/CTs/MRIs etc...

Interventional radiologists do minimally invasive procedures, but diagnostic radiologists have little patient contact TTBOMK.
(Original post by Hippokrates)
Definitely not for me then Although from what I hear it's a very competitive specialty so must have positive aspects.
I did a work experience placement in radiology and it is actually quite a cool speciality that is developing fast as we advance with technology. There isn't that much patient contact from what I saw, but there is some - interventional procedures like stenting, ultrasound, image guided biopsy/drain etc. Some of the radiologists I spoke to preferred having less though as it was less hectic for them compared to going round all the wards!
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Becca-Sarah
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(Original post by gozatron)
Genuinely, do you know of many applicants who've go on work experience and then decide against pursuing medicine?
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.


(Original post by AspiringGenius)
See while I think that individual circumstances should be considered (i.e. in the middle of the Scottish highlands I imagine it would be difficult) but I always find the word "impossible" is a bit melodramatic..
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.
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Helenia
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(Original post by gozatron)

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?
A couple of my NatSci friends at uni had considered medicine but been put off by work experience!
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