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Work Experience – Clinical Experience

By Verity Hawley
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Verity Hawley is a fifth year medical student at The University of Leeds. She writes about perhaps the most important and sought after experience, a clinical placement.

Three-day Placement - Paediatrics Department

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 shadowing doctors in a paediatrics department.

'I felt like I was going round in circles...'

One of the most challenging things for any prospective medical student to arrange is ‘proper’ medical work experience, i.e. shadowing clinicians in a primary and/or secondary care setting. Most medical schools require students to have this in their Personal Statement in order to demonstrate that they have experienced what it is like working in a medical environment and are still keen to become doctors afterwards. It took me a long time to find work experience, and it often felt disheartening when email contacts would stop responding or somebody wouldn’t ring back after saying that they would. I predominantly emailed people from local hospitals, and sometimes felt like I was going round in circles as there often wasn’t one specific person to contact regarding placements. In the end, I applied through a scheme at my local district general hospital and, after multiple emails, I arranged a three-day placement in the paediatrics department.

'It was helpful to see how the doctors interacted with the children...'

I felt very nervous when starting the placement as I had never really had to dress smartly before and had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, the staff were all really friendly and I found the whole experience really rewarding. I got the chance to sit in on a couple of consultant-led clinics, and although I wasn’t involved in any of the consultations, it was helpful to see how the doctors interacted with the children and their parents, and understand how a clinic is run. I also got to see the cardiologist doing ultrasound scans of children who had undergone heart surgery, which was really interesting. I spent the rest of my time on the paediatric ward, shadowing the doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants. It gave me my first taste of what it is like to work in a clinical environment and to observe how the different members of a team work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for their patients.

'I had the time to go and chat with the mother...'

I also spoke to a few patients by myself which was a good opportunity to build my confidence in speaking to people and to develop my communication skills. I particularly remember one child who had sickle cell anaemia and had come in with her mother for a blood transfusion. The mother could not speak much English and both her and her child seemed very nervous. All of the staff were very busy, but because I was just observing, I had the time to go and chat with the mother and play with the child, which helped to calm them both down. It was only a small gesture, and anybody could have done it, but it was the first time I had experienced how much of a difference you can make to somebody when they are feeling scared and vulnerable by just showing some kindness; this is such an important thing to remember when working in any medical field.

'I should have started looking for work experience earlier'

Looking back, if I were to give my younger self some advice regarding work experience, the most important thing I would say is that I should have started looking for work experience earlier. It really can take a long time to arrange anything, especially where busy clinicians are involved. I would also recommend trying to ring people if you have access to phone numbers, rather than relying on emails, as, while this can seem rather daunting, it tends to be much quicker and more successful once you are speaking to the right person. Finally, I think I could have got more out of my work experience if I had planned beforehand what I would like to do while I was there. I would suggest writing a list of questions to ask the doctors and nurses about their working life, to give you things to think about and read about prior to writing your Personal Statement, and it will also help you to have more things to talk about in your interviews.

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 +44 (0) 207 399 1990.