You may hear stories of students who hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, or rescue newborn babies in Nepal or who scrub into revolutionary reconstructive surgeries in Tokyo. First of all, do not panic. Doing work experience abroad is by no means a compulsory part of your medical school application. Nor is it something that will necessarily put you at any advantage compared to those who stay in the UK.
Admissions tutors are fully aware of the cost and logistics of doing work experience abroad and do not look at applications expecting or especially favouring students who have done work experience overseas.
What admissions tutors really do care about is what you made of your work experience, wherever it was. Your ability to reflect and say what surprised you, what interested you, what challenges and positives of a medical career it highlighted for you are far more important than the simple profile of a glamorous location or prestigious hospital name. Whether you spent your work experience in a GP practice in Yorkshire, in a cardiac ward in London or in a women’s ward in Mumbai, use it and get as much from it as possible. Keep a diary, quote what patients or doctors have said and think deeply about what it all means in the framework of a medical career.
Carrying out work experience in the UK gives you a glimpse of how the NHS works, which is essential for you to understand as you are applying to a UK medical school and will soon be part of this huge organisation.
Beatrice – University of Bristol
‘I went to a rural hospital in Tanzania and spent 2 weeks shadowing doctors in the general medical and obstetrics and gynaecology wards. It was an incredible and eye-opening experience but it wasn’t the thing that got me into medical school. Being able to sit and try to communicate with and listen to a post-stroke patient in rehab whilst at my local hospital, volunteering at my local nursing home and sitting in with my local GP and paediatrician all provided experiences which translated into a wealth of topics to discuss in interviews and were plenty without needing my experiences abroad. I feel very lucky that I was able to go abroad and see medicine in a totally different and unfamiliar environment and it taught me a lot about politics, culture and infrastructure as much as it did about medicine.’
Ahmad – University of Manchester
‘As an international applicant, it was practical for me to shadow doctors on a busy labour ward in my home country, Malaysia. It was an exciting 2 weeks which allowed me to gain an insider’s perspective on how a government hospital worked alongside supplementing my existing knowledge of my local healthcare system. It was useful to meet doctors who had studied overseas and had returned to work in Malaysia and I was able to learn from their experiences too. To ensure that I was aware of how the UK healthcare system worked for the purpose of my interview, I researched it online thoroughly to prepare myself.’
As part of your personal statement and medical application, work experience abroad is an added bonus and point of interest. However, it is by no means a necessity and nor will it necessarily help you to win that medical school place. Question and reflect well on what you have witnessed in whatever work experience you have done; this will put you on the pathway to success.
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