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Work experience at a hospital: why does it have to be so difficult?

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by Leo 10 Comments

Posted under: work experience

Work experience at a hospital is really pretty essential to your medical application .

Fail to mention work experience on your section 10 and you may a well post your application form straight into the bin.

Despite this, many applicants tell me they are having difficulty arranging suitable work experience in good time for their application.

Why is it so difficult?

After all, students applying for medicine are actually some of the keenest, brightest students and are well liked by the medical teams to which they are attached.

I’ve made a few phone calls to hospitals (not my own) to work out what actually happens and I’ve spoken to students to get an idea of why some people run into problems.

So, here are my main reasons for why students fail to get hospital work experience.

  • They (especially year 10 students) expect the school to arrange it. Schools don’t often try very hard. Sorry.
  • Places get booked up by the keenest students months in advance.
  • Places are arranged informally by people who have ‘contacts’ within the medical profession.
  • It’s difficult to know who to speak to within a hospital. You end up getting passed between lots of confused people.

Apart from doctors and nurses, hospitals are full of confused people in “admin” who aren’t quite sure what their job actually entails. Consequently they often try to transfer any call they receive so that they can continue updating their Facebook status.

If you want to get into medical school you cannot let these reasons stop you getting crucial work experience. Ideally you need more than one attachment at separate points in time.

Here is my strategy to help you succeed.

At the end of the post I’ll attach a hospital work experience request letter to help you get things right without wasting time.

1. Call the hospital switchboard.

Call the switchboard and (usually after waiting half an hour) ask the operator to speak to the work experience coordinator. Some hospitals won’t have one so if the operator starts to stumble or says, “er let me look that one up..” and puts you on hold you should politely ask him to instead put you through to Medical Staffing.

In some hospitals they are also known as personnel or recruitment, so modify accordingly if you’re met with more confusion.

2. Make your request

Introduce yourself as a pre-medical student . Speak clearly and confidently. Tell them you are seeking a brief 1-2 weeks work experience attachment to see how the doctors do their work and what is involved in the day to day running of the hospital.

Keep your request general at this stage. Do not ask for specifics.

3. Name drop (if you can)

If you are lucky enough to have spoken to any medical staff informally before initiating contact with the hospital formally, you ought to mention the name of the doctor or nurse when you make your initial request.

Something along the lines of,

“I’ve been in touch with Dr Morton, one of the consultant physicians. He was very keen to have me as a work experience student and advised that a chat with you would be the most suitable way to arrange things”

Mentioning a name makes your request more tenable and more difficult to fob off.

4. Be flexible

State that you are flexible in terms of dates, times and departments. If your ideal week is already booked up by other students there will be other weeks that are available. Being attached to an elderly care ward might not be as exciting as casualty or neurosurgery but it doesn’t matter. Any relevant work experience is fine. You can spin any experience into an amazing story for your interviewers eventually!

5. Write a letter (use our free template)

During your initial phone call you may be asked to put your request in writing which you will then have to do.

Try to get some sort of verbal confirmation before you do this. It will allow you to mention the name of the person you’ve spoken to in your letter, stating that they have agreed in principle to allow you to attend an attachment. this makes your letter much harder to ignore, or refuse.

Attach a CV to your letter.

Our letter template is at the end of this post.

6. Keep trying

Expect refusals and repeat the process until you succeed. Try all the local hospitals before moving out to other hospitals in nearby towns. If you are still getting refused try smaller towns further afield. Even if you have to book some accommodation for a three or four day attachment in a far away hospital it simply doesn’t matter. As a junior doctor you will often be working nights, far from home in some horrid hospital accommodation. If you’re truly committed to medicine, a little inconvenience shouldn’t bother you at this stage.

7. Try other local avenues for work experience

You should also try GP practices. These are generally easier to negotiate work experience with.

8. Overseas work experience

This can look very impressive on a CV but is best combined with at least a little UK experience.

The developing world offers some excellent opportunities and if you are travelling abroad for other reasons, it is always worth contacting some local hospitals to arrange an attachment even if it’s only for a few days. It will probably be the most memorable part of your holiday and will give you insights into another healthcare system. If you play your cards right on your personal statement and at interview, this can really give you an edge over the rest of the competition.

Although overseas experience is best arranged by yourself, there are organisations such as gapmedics that can do alot of the organising for you. I can’t vouch for such organisations as I’ve never used them myself. In my view you can learn alot more and save a huge amount of money by avoiding such companies and doing the arranging yourself. However they are an option if you’re having difficulty arranging things. If you must use one of these services make sure they are reputable and shop around to make sure you aren’t being ripped off.

Some voluntary work can count as work experience. It just depends on how well you can spin things in your statement and interview. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities available and these are easier to get than a typical work experience attachment. Be picky.

There are plenty of opportunities here.

Like what you read? There’s more going on behind the scenes…

Have you managed to get work experience yet. How did you do it?  Comments below!

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