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Medical Entry: Obtaining Work Experience During COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

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Obtaining work experience is an important part of the medical school entry process. However, obtaining work experience has become significantly more difficult with the recent COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions. Many hospitals have temporarily cancelled their work experience programs, and other health facilities are understandably reluctant to accept students into their organisations.

However, it is still important that students obtain work experience for the medical entry process. In this blog, we will discuss why work experience is important, and some work experience substitutes that you can undertake during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Why is medical work experience important?

Work experience in a medical or health related setting is important for several reasons. Firstly, it enables you to gain a realistic understanding of medicine as a profession, and helps you decide if medicine is the right career for you. Secondly, it demonstrates to universities that you understand the realities of medicine, rather than having a romanticised view of what the career entails. Thirdly, it demonstrates to medical schools that you have a strong motivation to pursue medicine as a career.

Although medical schools do not require you to have undertaken work experience, such experiences are highly valued during the application process – both in written applications and interviews.  

Work experience substitutes

Given many hospitals and organisations have ceased accepting students for in person work experience due to COVID-19, it is important to find other ways to gain an understanding of medicine as a career.

Volunteer work

Universities value work experience highly when applying for medicine. Volunteer work in a medical or health related setting demonstrates several attributes to the medical school admissions board. Firstly, it shows that you are an altruistic person that genuinely cares about others and the community. Secondly, it shows that you understand the role of a carer and the challenges that this type of work entails. Thirdly, it again demonstrates your motivation to pursue a career in medicine or a health-related field.

In person volunteer work is the best substitute for work experience in the current COVID-19 climate. To obtain volunteer work, you can:

  • Approach a local nursing home to see if you can shadow and assist a nurse or health care assistant
  • Approach a local community volunteer group (such as those helping to care for disabled children) to ask if you can assist
  • Contact your local council, who may be able to direct you to volunteering positions available in testing/tracing for COVID-19

Volunteer work in non-health related settings is still valuable and worth mentioning in your written application and in interviews, although it will not necessarily demonstrate that you have a good understanding of what working in a health related setting involves.

Speaking with a doctor or medical student / mentor

Speaking with someone who is currently studying or practicing medicine will give you a good insight into medicine as a profession. You can speak with them over the phone or via virtual means (Facetime, Zoom, Skype etc.).

If you don’t know anyone personally, you can speak with your local General Practitioner. Tell them that you are a prospective medical student and you are interested in learning more about life as a doctor. Most people will be more than willing to help.

Virtual work experience

Some organisations have begun offering virtual work experience as a substitute for in-person experiences.

For example, Monash university offers a virtual work experience opportunity: https://www.monash.edu/medicine/handsonhealth/the-program/virtual-work-experience

Other virtual work experience opportunities include:

It is likely that more of these opportunities will become available over the coming months.

Reading books

There are many books that provide an insightful view into medicine and life as a doctor. These include:

  • Junior Doctors:
    • ‘This is Going to Hurt’ and ‘Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas’ by Adam Kay
    • ‘Trust Me I’m a Junior Doctor’ by Max Pemberton
    • ‘Your Life In My Hands’ by Rachel Clarke
  • Epidemiology:
    • ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre
  • Patient journeys:
    • ‘Being Mortal’, ‘Better’, ‘Complications’ and ‘Medicine and What Matters in the End’, by Atul Gawande
    • ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi
  • Doctors’ careers and their memorable cases
    • ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat’ by Oliver Sacks
    • ‘Fragile Lives’ and ‘The Knife’s Edge’ by Stephen Westaby

Watching TV Programs

Television can also provide an understanding of medicine as a profession. Note that documentaries tend to provide a more realistic view of life in medicine. Dramas should be avoided as they give an inaccurate, sensationalist view of medicine.

Examples of medical documentaries include:

  • Miracle Hospital
  • Code Black
  • 24 Hours in A&E
  • An Hour to Save Your Life
  • The Waiting Room
  • One Born Every Minute

Utilising Internet Resources

Internet resources can provide some useful content. These include:

  • TED talks relating to health topics and issues
  • ABC Health Report
  • Junior British Medical Journal
  • The Guardian’s science page

Other ideas

Other work experience substitutes include:

  • Researching a topic of relevance, writing up a report and submitting it to your local newspaper or community bulletin for publication
  • Contacting an academic at a local university, offering to work on one of their health related research projects

There are endless activities you can pursue if you think outside the box.

Making the most of your work experience

If you have undertaken any in-person work experience prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, you should mention it in your written application and in your interview, if relevant. If you had arranged work experience and it got cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19, you should also mention it, as it still demonstrates to the university that you have the motivation to seek out such opportunities.

To obtain the most from your work experience, whether virtual, physical or via the internet, it is important to record and reflect on your experiences. It is a good idea to keep a diary where you reflect on what you learned, and how it has impacted upon your desire to pursue medicine as a career.

Note that it is preferable to engage in a couple of significant experiences, rather than lots of simple or minor activities. Medical schools are interested in quality rather than quantity.

There are some organisations which claim to take you on “work experience tours” to overseas countries for a fee. We suggest you avoid these for several reasons – for example, they are expensive and you may give the impression that you are very privileged which may be to your disadvantage.

A final word

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about our world, there are many ways you can meaningfully learn about medicine as a career, even with the current COVID-19 restrictions. Furthermore, remember that everyone is in the same situation.

And don’t forget quality medical interview preparation!

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