The why, how and what of work experience in health care

August 8, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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Whether you are on a year out before starting a health care course or still in the process of applying for the course of your choice, the right work experience placement can play an invaluable role in helping you get the most from the first year of your training – or getting that all-important interview  for the course of your dreams.

And if you are still far from certain whether you really want to be a health care professional, a work placement could be key to helping you finally decide whether the world of medicine is the right one for you.

The question of which work experience will work best for you will depend on your situation and your personal preferences. 

Here we outline the different kinds of experience to seek out at different stages, how to secure them and how they could work well for you.

Spend your placement shadowing midwifes and observe live births! I’m on  a gap year

If you have completed your A Levels and are enjoying a gap year before starting university, a Gap Medics placement offers the perfect opportunity to get some experience in practical health care ahead of starting formal training. Prices start at £600 for a one-week placement in Tanzania or Thailand or £1,000 for one week in Eastern Europe. This will give you invaluable experience if you are planning to apply for courses this year with a view to starting in the next academic year. If you already have a place at university, well done! A spell studying health care in the field will give you an invaluable insight and a head start when you hit the lecture theatre. 

If you have taken a gap year to earn some cash ahead of university, finding paid employment as a carer in a home for elderly people or as a support worker with people who have special needs will offer invaluable, hands-on experience and the chance to learn new skills and benefit from the experience of qualified professionals. This will look excellent on your university application form and will inform your learning if you already have a place at university.  

I’m still at school and I want to be a health care professional

If you are planning on applying for a health care course interviewers will certainly be looking for health care work experience on your CV. 

If you can get paid employment in a nursing home or other environment where health care is a key focus, that would be ideal. It would also prove to university interviewers that you are capable of juggling your academic demands with other interests and responsibilities. 

You can enjoy a Gap Medic experience even if you are at school, so long as you are 16 years old on the day you travel and provided Gap Medics has the permission of your parent or guardian. If you know you are planning to apply for a health care course at university, a placement with Gap Medics will look excellent on your application form as it will show a sustained commitment to your chosen career. It will also give you something interesting to talk about at interview.

If you do not want to go down that route you should secure yourself some work experience with professional health care providers in the area which interests you.

How do I secure work experience in the UK or Australia?

Most schools have links in the local community designed to secure students work experience, so your school careers coordinator or guidance teachers may be your best first call.

If your school does not have such links you can approach your local doctor’s surgery or hospital directly and ask if you can arrange a placement with them. Check out their website or phone them to see if they have a formal scheme in place. They will be happy to let you know how to go about applying for a placement.  

Plan ahead

Most health care professionals are delighted to help those seeking work experience, but some organisations receive huge numbers of requests. Plan ahead to ensure you get the kind of placement you are looking for.

Clearly state what kind of placement you would like

This may sound rather obvious, but when applying for a placement, explain what your ambitions are and the purpose of your application – for example, if you want to be an orthopaedic surgeon state this on your placement application. Don’t just say that you are interested in orthopaedics, as you could end up with any number of different types of professionals. Making your wishes clear will help the hospital link you with exactly the right professionals so that you can get the most out of your experience and have something pertinent to talk about at your university interview.

I can’t get a placement ahead of sending off my university application

If you plan ahead you should be able to get a relevant work placement, but if not, you may be able to secure a Gap Medics placement in your area of interest at short notice, which will ensure you have some relevant work experience to list on your application form. An absence of work experience will leave admissions teams wondering how committed you really are to a career in health – and may cost you that all important interview.  

Don’t just watch…

Once you are on a work placement, don’t just observe – ask the health professionals about their jobs, their interactions with individual patients and the world in which they work. Be sensitive – there is a time and a place to ask questions, and that is likely to be well out of the earshot of patients. Don’t just ask about clinical procedures. Ask the professionals about the pros and cons of their jobs. And ask them about the bigger picture – what do they and their colleague regard as the biggest challenges facing their profession now and in the future. Are they concerned about any forthcoming Government policies? If so, why? What impact will it have on them and their patients? These are the kind of questions which might well come up at university interviews and chatting it through with the people on the ground will help you formulate answers for your interview. 

I’m still at school but not sure if I want to work in health care

If you are considering a career in the field of medicine but not 100% certain that it is for you, work experience  will help you make up your mind. Combining a health care placement with a trip abroad, such as the placements offered by Gap Medics, will ensure you spend your work experience time in an enjoyable and fascinating environment far from your own culture – ensuring you a fantastic life experience, whether you decide to become a health care professional or not.