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Work Experience – Oxfam

By Verity Hawley
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Verity Hawley is a fifth year medical student at The University of Leeds. She writes about her time volunteering at an Oxfam charity shop.

Voluntary Work - Oxfam

Verity Hawley is a Medical Student at The University of Leeds, after gaining three A*s and one A at A level. She took a year out between third and fourth year to complete an intercalated degree, and recieved a First Class Honours degree in Clinical Sciences (Molecular Medicine), winning a prize for achieving the highest mark in her degree. She has interviewed at the Leeds Medical School Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) for the past three years.

In this blog, Verity outlines her experiences volunteering at Oxfam, and how being around different customers helped her develop interpersonal skills.

'I found the contact by searching online...'

I actually completed a placement at my local Oxfam shop as part of my Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award, as the award requires evidence of some voluntary work, however it doubled up as something that I could write about in my personal statement and talk about at interviews. I found the contact for the shop just by searching online for local charity shops that were looking for volunteers. As a general rule, essentially all charity shops are willing to take on new volunteers as they are often understaffed, plus having a large number of volunteers allows staff to work more flexibly. I arranged to attend the shop once a week for two hours every Sunday morning, along with my friend from school. Whilst we were there, our responsibilities predominantly involved sorting through donated items in the stockroom, and a small amount of time helping out on the shop floor.

'It carried some responsibility...'

In the stockroom, we would be given a certain number of items to look through, including clothing, books and other assorted items. We were advised that we would need to decide whether clothing was appropriate for being sold in the shop or whether it should be thrown away, and we also had to check for the quality/integrity of any donated books. Although this could be a sometimes monotonous task, it carried some responsibility as we were trusted with potentially valuable items and were making decisions with little experience in the area.

'I realised how enjoyable small talk can actually be!'

It was also a really useful experience as I got to spend some time working in the shop itself, carrying out minor tasks such as stocking shelves and cleaning the shop floor. This allowed me the opportunity to talk to lots of different customers, especially older people, with whom I didn't often get the opportunity to converse with, which was not something I’d had much experience of before. At first, I felt quite shy and wasn’t really sure what sort of things to talk about, but I quickly realised just how easy it is to make conversation with all kinds of people, and how enjoyable small talk can actually be! This was an invaluable first chance to develop my communication skills, as being able to talk to people from all walks of life is a key skill as a clinician. Even if you have excellent scientific knowledge and can take blood with your eyes closed, if you don’t know how to talk easily and naturally with patients you can guarantee that they aren’t going to like you very much, and are less likely to trust you and build a good rapport.

'It makes you feel like you've really done something to help people...'

The experience also made me aware of the need for support within the community and why volunteering is so important. It makes you feel like you’ve really done something to help people, whilst getting lots out of it yourself. It’s also always good experience to put on your C.V. if you’re looking for part-time work whilst studying! I would highly recommend volunteering in a charity shop for any prospective medical student, as it demonstrates social awareness, commitment and, as I mentioned before, it is a great opportunity to develop your communication skills. The shops are always looking for new volunteers, so get searching and put yourself out there!

A career as a doctor is challenging and requires dedication and perseverance. There will be hurdles along the way, but remember you have a very exciting career ahead of you and that is the ultimate goal to aim for. Good luck! If you want to talk to one of our consultants about your options, we will be happy to talk to you. Ring us on (0) 207 399 1990.