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Work Experience

Work experience is definitely the most talked about thing in the medicine/dentistry application sphere, no doubt. But you know what the problem is…? Nobody knows what they’re doing…or why they’re doing it! So in this guide, we’ll break down a few things, ranging from: what work experience is for, and how to make the most of it for your application, to some alternatives, and what NOT to do. Ready? Let’s go! 😀

What counts as work experience, and why? 🤔

Yes, hospitals are good work experience, but they’re not the be all and end all! Everybody thinks that just by going to a hospital, seeing a few doctors and mentioning it at interviews → you’re at a massive advantage to everybody else! Take it from us, this ISN’T the case!

So what’s the point of work experience?

  • To gain a realistic, insightful and well rounded understanding of:
    • What it is like being a doctor/dentist, including the difficulties
    • The skills required of a doctor/dentist
    • What it is like being a patient
    • The structure of how the NHS actually works!

And yes, that’s it. No fancy surgeries, mystery diseases or gory procedures! The best part is, to fulfil those criteria, you don’t need to limit yourself to just 1-2 weeks of work experience, rather you can immerse yourself in a variety of places to gain the insight… for example:

  • Speak to medical students, doctors, dentists and dental students via social media
  • Gain some experience in an alternate healthcare setting to reinforce your understanding of the patient/clinician relationship and patient experience
  • Research the challenges facing doctors and dentists, watch videos and listen to podcasts on this stuff!
  • Virtual work experience is great! Really use these as an opportunity to break down what’s going on between patient and doctor/dentist… and use these reflections as a basis for your interviews and personal statement.
  • Have your own reflective sessions, where you ask yourself: ‘WHAT DOES A DOCTOR/DENTIST ACTUALLY DO?’ → allow this to feed into some extra reading to further reinforce your understanding!

Sometimes less is more, and virtual can be better than real! 🚀

You don’t believe us, do you. LOL. Well let us show you 2 sections from a personal statement, and you can judge it for yourself 😀

Virtual Work Experience

  • During my virtual work experience, I saw a patient suffering from both fibromyalgia and anxiety. The patient’s body language reflected the pain, with her body hunched over and head slumped. Careful not to startle the patient further, the doctor mirrored the patient’s body language by lowering himself to the patient’s level. as opposed to repeatedly questioning the patient, the doctor used open questions and spent most of his time listening, in order to understand the patient. The effect of this empathetic and comforting communication was reflected in both the patient’s gratitude and her improved body language. I thus realised, a successful consultation means to invest time into the patient, in order to gain information and then advise/treat based on the doctor’s scientific knowledge.
    • As you can see, this person clearly understands what it means, and what it takes to be a doctor. Not only that, but they understand the role of the patient’s emotions in the consultation, and don’t limit everything to complex procedures and flashy terminology!
    • The most important thing however, is the fact that this consultation probably didn’t seem to be that juicy from the outset! But because of the understanding that this student has developed during the medicine/dentistry application process, they were able to pick up on the smallest details like body language and communication, something most applicants miss out!

Real Work Experience

  • Whilst shadowing consultants on an endocrine ward, I was fortunate enough to witness a patient suffering a thyroid storm. The multidisciplinary team united to support the patient under pressure, which was incredibly insightful into a medical career. The doctor’s used their surgical skills, as well as their organisational skills to make sure the whole team was effective. Resilience was also incredibly important, as patients aren’t always going to survive. This was also reflected on my 2 week placement where I was able to witness a surgery where a patient suffering from aortic stenosis was getting a valve replacement. My experiences exposed me to the variety of symptoms and treatments that patients present with, and the requirement for a doctor to be adaptable.
    • This person is focused on quantity, not quality. Though the person talks about procedures and the skills of a doctor, they fail to talk about the thoughts and feelings experienced by both patient and doctor.
    • The student also fails to focalise things around the patient. Just like the patient is at the centre of care, the patient should be at the centre of your reflections too 😄
    • Finally, namedropping diseases and procedures won’t add a huge amount. When you do your work experience, hone in on the subtleties of the career. The things that make doctors great, and make patients feel good!

The actionable stuff…🔥

Let’s call this… the 5 rules to work experience for your medicine/dentistry application? Share them, make them spread like fire…But most importantly, implement them in every single work experience you have. Well, let’s go!

  1. Have an idea of what to expect. The worst thing you can do is to turn up to work experience without any idea of what a medical/dental career entails! Having an idea of how the NHS works, the different members of the MDT, and much more will mean that your observations are targeted and focussed
  2. Don’t just focus on the doctors/dentists! There’s a whole team involved in caring for the patient! So focus in on them. Particularly the way they interact with each other, their role in treating the patient, notable meetings and some potential difficulties that may arise within a team setting! Medicine/Dentistry is beautifully nuanced, if only thee take heed.
  3. Don’t forget the patient. This is our favourite, and probably the most important. Everything in healthcare is ultimately for the patient, yet so many applicants forget this in work experience! Really hone in on how the patient is feeling, how they are reacting to treatment and the types of experiences they have! Don’t be afraid to ask them 😀
  4. Talk to the doctors/dentists! You can’t gain a true insight, without seeing stuff through the lens of those who are experienced! So ask the staff what they struggle with…what they enjoy, and also a run down of their weekly schedule! Don’t limit yourself there though, be creative!
  5. Make a reflection log. Work experience is nothing without documentation and reflection. Split your experience into different categories, whether this be different patient cases, or the different aspects of care. Anything works. Then really try to brainstorm the skills, difficulties, actions and results related to each thing done by a doctor/dentist.

A lil surprise! 🎁

We’ve referenced skills a lot… but students often get confused. What are the skills of a doctor? What should I look for? How do I know what a good doctor is and what isn’t?

Well. I’ll tell you right now, that the best places to look are:

  • NHS Constitution
  • GMC/GDC Guidelines

But before that, we’ll get you started with some skills of a doctor/dentist that you’ll probably want to look out for during work experience, trust us, nobody else does!

Emotional intelligence Versatility/Adaptability
Resilience Having a presence
Being a good listener Perspective taking
Counselling Ability Motivating/uplifting

and that’s a wrap. That’s definitely a good start for you, soooo…. get that work experience and flyyyyy through your application! Remember, if you ever get confused, we’re just a DM away 💙