Experience in a busy hospital can be hard to secure, and universities are aware of this. Instead you could offer to be a volunteer providing basic patient assistance, talking to patients on the wards, assisting disabled patients or shadowing doctors. Contact the voluntary services of your local hospital (via their website); they should be able to help.
Be aware that often voluntary jobs require a long-term commitment, so plan in advance and give yourself time to fulfil a volunteering placement. Although length of work experience is not critical, a more timely experience would give you more to talk about in your personal statement and at an interview.
Consider that hospitals may take up to 6 months to process your application and will require a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. Note that you must be aged 16 or older to work in a hospital due to legal restrictions. Consider organising voluntary work in a hospital during or after your final GCSE year.
Experience in primary care is, in many ways, more essential than hospital care experience because the majority of healthcare is currently community-based. Approach your local GP surgery, explain who you are and offer a CV or application letter to indicate your interest in carrying out work experience there. Smaller organisations are often far more able than hospitals to organise placements for eager students but again, planning ahead will avoid the problem of oversubscription.
Each patient will need to verbally consent for you to sit in as a work experience student. While most patients are happy to allow students to attend their appointments, do be prepared for the occasional refusal. Some GP practices refuse students who are patients at the practice for fear of recognising their neighbours, so you may have to venture further from home to find a placement.
You will be briefed on the confidentiality policy of the practice upon arrival. This is an important principle to get used to early on. You must not discuss any patient details with anyone other than the GP. It is a privilege to get an insight into people’s lives, and to demonstrate your respect you must ensure that you keep the information they share private and anonymous.
An advantage of primary care work experience is that the placement is local in the community and will enable you to see and talk to a wide variety of patients with varied clinical presentations, backgrounds and interpretations of their own medical ailments. Primary care is the first point of contact for any member of the public with the health services and is absolutely critical to the successful functioning of the NHS. Have a look at NHS Choices to find GP practices near you.
Make sure you keep a work experience diary; this does not mean documenting every single thing you see or do, but more importantly reflecting on what your experiences have taught you. It may sound tedious and unnecessary to keep records like this but it will make writing your personal statement and preparing for interviews far more straightforward.
Hospices will provide insight into palliative and end-of-life care, which is becoming more relevant in our ageing population. There is an opportunity for a deeper reflection and analysis of good patient care through such a placement. It enables you to think holistically and reflect on the limitations of modern medicine. If you develop a good relationship with the care providers, there are often a wide range of experiences and volunteering opportunities that they can help organise, such as attending day centres, going to family homes or attending in-patient units. Have a look at the Hospice UK website for general information and to research your local hospice.
It may not match the fast-paced excitement of a surgical operation or an emergency department, but volunteering in a nursing home has many advantages. It is easy to secure with appropriate contact and a DBS check. It provides an opportunity to talk to people who have experienced a lifetime of health and illness and to gain their perspective. You can have a positive effect on the day of those you meet, and gain a valuable impression of the roles of the care assistants, nurses and doctors who look after older people.
You will have the chance to perform some hands-on care and attend activities as a volunteer. If you have a longer block of time available, consider working as a care assistant for a summer or gap-year job. Those who really listen and have plenty of patience will learn a huge amount.
There are many centres in the community, both NHS-funded and charity-funded, that support adults and children with additional learning or communication needs. You can make a difference to people’s lives and learn more about the challenges faced by disabled members of society. You will be able to work out how best to communicate and collaborate with different people. Reflect on how you can overcome difficulties and develop rapport and trust with those who are more limited in their understanding and/or expression.
The opportunities here are vast. If you crave hands-on practical skills training and an opportunity to practise them in real-life situations then this is a great option. You will learn first aid skills and then put them to practise on members of the public. In return, you will need to commit some time and effort to develop the skills and understanding you need to deliver first aid care effectively. Have a look at the St John Ambulance website.
This is not just fun but is highly relevant. Children make up an important workload of primary care and, of course, paediatric care. Do not discount the value of working with local groups like kids’ clubs, children’s sports teams or at support centres for disabled or disadvantaged people. You could approach your old primary school, your local sports centre or local special educational needs centre.
There are opportunities for training and gaining experience with support groups such as Samaritans or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). These require long-term commitment and considerable training so make sure you plan in advance and give yourself enough time to complete the training and get experience on the job. A further advantage is that these options can be more special than generic voluntary placements, providing something fresh and interesting to discuss on your application. For more information, have a look at the Samaritans and NSPCC websites.
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