Are you considering a career in the medical profession? Finding it difficult to take the first step and get relevant work experience? In this blog post, Laura Riggall gives her top tips for jumping the hurdles, and securing medical placements.
Obtaining placements in the medical profession can be challenging. Often, there are numerous hurdles such as practitioner availability, non-medical students being allowed in theatre, as well as a huge over-subscription. However, there are a number of things which helped me when I was looking for work experience, which I’ve outlined below.
Ask in person rather than by email
I got much further when making initial contact in person or on the phone rather than e-mailing. Emails are often forgotten about and are easy for someone to ignore. I found doing a bit of online research to identify professionals in my areas of interest really paid off. In many cases I was able to make contact through a practitioner’s secretary or sometimes directly with the practitioner. If you ask directly you are much more likely to get a response than emailing a general enquiries inbox. For example, I wanted to obtain work experience in a primary care centre, but after dropping them an email and hearing nothing back, I asked in person. This led on to four months of experience at the centre.
Being persistent really paid off for me and I think it is the key to obtaining placements. If you show you are keen you stand a much better chance of someone taking note and your email not being lost in an inbox somewhere. If you don’t hear from someone, drop another email, go ask in person, or try someone else. It took several phone calls to my local hospital, but I ended up with a week’s worth of work experience rotating around several departments.
Take what you can. Whilst it’s fine to prioritise which sectors and specialisms you contact depending on your preferences, do also contact other areas, as well as consider related roles in different settings; for example care work. Experience in a medical setting is really hard to come by and all experience is valuable. I took a placement in medical records, and a subsequent placement in minor surgery. The surgery placement was much more desirable for me personally, but spending time in medical records allowed me to view a different side to secondary care.
Try a range of areas
Particularly for medical school applications, admissions officers like to see a candidate with a range of experiences. It shows that they have taken the time to view different aspects of healthcare, rather than focus solely on the one or two areas in which they are interested. This extra experience and understanding is extremely desirable: Successful healthcare requires communication from a huge range of departments; so understanding the bigger picture is key. I’ve experienced placements from surgery to working on receptions. I’ve learnt something different from every placement that I’ve been on, and each one has been extremely useful.
It’s who you know not what you know
Use any contacts you can. Chances are you will know a medical student, have a relative in healthcare, or know someone who knows someone else in healthcare. I asked my own doctor for a placement, and ended up spending a week in their clinic and minor surgery sessions. Use your contacts to help you obtain a placement by politely asking them to put in a good word for you, or by asking them to give you the contact details of someone who can help. It will also help to write a short paragraph explaining who you are and asking your contacts to forward this on for you. If can’t use the people around you, try asking your own doctor, like I did, for a shadowing opportunity or for them to ask other professionals on your behalf.
The NHS covers medical students in theatre in the event that something goes wrong. However, as a non-medical student this isn’t the case. On top of this non-medical students don’t tend to be as aware of scrubbing up procedures, and how to prevent contamination. These potentially pose problems in theatre for staff and patients, but approaching a variety of surgeons, showing that you’re very keen, and asking them about gaining experience may lead onto a shadowing opportunity. When I did a placement in neurosurgery I obtained it by talking things through with the surgeon, and showing how keen I was to gain experience in surgery. I also made it clear that appreciated and would abide by the procedures throughout an operation.
One placement can lead on to more
Once you’ve shadowed a practitioner they become a very useful contact, so use them. Politely ask whether you can observe anything else or whether they can put you in touch with a colleague. After experiencing one neurosurgery placement, I am now lined up for a second neurosurgery placement with a different surgeon due to the first putting my name forward.
Overall, persistence and enthusiasm are key. Take what you can get, and don’t rule out an area just because your initial thought is that it won’t be interesting. Once you complete a placement, be sure to use those contacts to try and gain more experiences. Finally, when you complete your medical school application, emphasise how much you have learnt rather than list the number of placements you have done. Good luck!
Remember, you can pop into the Careers Centre anytime Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm for advice.