Some of you may have finished exams and should be thinking of arranging work experience during the summer holidays. Those presently in the L6th will need to write their Personal Statements in a few months and will need to show that they have the required experience to be sure that medicine is for them. Now is the time to look and address gaps in your work experience and potential Personal Statement and put them right.
Most medical schools would like you to have done at least one week in a hospital and one week in a GP surgery or community placement. But don’t panic. Medical Schools know that this is hard to arrange- particularly work experience in General Practice where there is often a long standing one to one relationship between a doctor and patient and a student’s presence can feel intrusive.
Medical Schools know that it is easier for middle class applicants with doctors as relatives or friends of their parents to arrange work experience. It is not what you did that matters most but what you got from it– what insights you gained about what you saw. For example one medical school stated that they preferred a Personal Statement that talked about how a candidate spent a week with a community podiatrist and learnt about diabetes and how it affects feet and how they now understood how foot problems cause mobility problems in the elderly which affected their self esteem and confidence to a personal statement that simply listed seemingly impressive work experience consisting of watching brain surgery, heart transplants, sitting in a neurology clinic seeing rare disorders and working at Great Ormond Street. Remember they want to know that you are a reflective, eager learner not someone just seduced by the superficial glamour of medicine. If for example you cannot get work experience at a GP surgery then try other community placements such as podiatry, community physiotherapy or working in a hospice.
Community work is considered as important as work experience by most medical schools. It is seen as evidence of a caring personality and exposure to the gritty realities of the life of some of the most vulnerable in society. Working in, for example a charity shop enables many skills to be learnt such as dealing with the public and working in teams. Communicating with the elderly and children may require different approaches and may be challenging – What did you learn, how did you manage? What did you learn about the disabled? Again evidence of insight is required. People often use platitudes describing them as brave, tragic, victims but of course no two disabled people are the same and ‘labelling’ involves pitfalls. Look at them and talk to them as normal. See past the disability to the person. A journalist who broke her leg recently wrote about her experience of using a wheel chair. In a restaurant she was completely ignored while a waitress talked to her 12 year old son. The Radio 4 programme on disability is called ‘Does He Take Sugar?’ in reference to the fact that the disabled are frequently assumed to be incompetent at answering or talking and their companion is perceived as responsible for them.
I would suggest reading a few books [perhaps you could mention them in your Personal Statement]. I recommend;
1. Complications by Atul Gawande [A professor of surgery at Harvard who has done a lot of useful work at the World Health Organisation].
2. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddartha Mukkarjee [This won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is about the history of cancer, its treatments and future – told as a story.]
3. Confessions of a GP A lovely, little, easy to read book giving an idea of working on the front line of medicine.
Keep doing any ‘team work’ activities, mentoring and befriending.
Lastly consider visiting medical museums. This again may be an interesting topic to talk about at interview. Medical history is fascinating [and horrific] – blood, guts and gore. More about that next week!