Work Experience – ‘Staffordshire buddies’

By Verity Hawley

Verity Hawley is a fifth year medical student at The University of Leeds. She writes about her time volunteering for a local HIV support charity.

Local Charity - Staffordshire Buddies

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 at a local charity called ‘Staffordshire Buddies’, a local charity…

'I had never heard of them before...'

Probably the most interesting voluntary work that I did in the lead up to writing my personal statement for medical school was working for a local charity called Staffordshire Buddies. I came across this charity when searching online for local volunteering opportunities, and until then I had never heard of them before. It transpired that they were an HIV charity, providing multiple different services to people living with HIV in Staffordshire, and they were taking on new recruits to help run some of these services.

'I felt so priviledged...'

I signed up online, and after giving them my details, going through a DBS checking process and attending several training sessions, I started volunteering once per week at my local Staffordshire Buddies centre. The session I helped out at were in a drop-in session for any people living with HIV in the local area who wanted to have a chat, both with other HIV positive people and with the volunteers who had lots of knowledge about both the virus and ways to get financial and social support.

I met a multitude of different people during my time there, and discussed many different issues which were both sensitive and very personal to the service-users. I felt so privileged that these people were willing to open up to me and that I could provide some support during potentially very difficult times in their lives. As HIV is unfortunately still a condition with a lot of associated stigma, it was my first real experience of understanding the utmost importance of maintaining patient confidentiality. Furthermore, the people I met came from all age groups and all walks of life, and therefore I had to learn to adapt my communication style to suit different people; a key skill when working in a clinical environment.

'This made me consider the way I would approach similar situations...'

I also feel that I gained a lot of confidence during my time with the charity, as I got involved with lots of team-building exercises and workshops, learned a lot scientifically about an area I previously knew very little about, and regularly had to feel comfortable talking about quite sensitive topics, including discussing the sexual history of people three times my age. I also regularly spoke with the service-users about their experiences with clinicians during their diagnosis and treatment process, both good and bad. This helped me to identify the problems that this group of patients had faced, including fear of stigma and embarrassment, which prevented them from openly discussing their sexual experiences with doctors. This then made me consider the way that I would approach similar situations as a practicing clinician myself later in life, and highlighted the importance of being open and non-judgemental with all future patients that I would meet.

'You may be surprised about how much you will learn about yourself...'

Whilst this is not necessarily an opportunity that will be available to most students, as the charity is specific to Staffordshire, rather than being nationwide, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding some sort of long term voluntary placement before applying to study Medicine, whether it be with a local charity, hospice or nursing home. These experiences can seem a lot of effort at first as they require your time on a weekly basis, and may prevent you from being able to get part-time paid work instead. However, you may be surprised about how much you will learn about yourself, how much you will grow in confidence, and how good it will look, when it comes to writing your personal statement, to demonstrate that you have the dedication, communication skills and caring nature necessary to undertake this demanding vocation.

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.