When I first decided to become a Doctor, the first thing I got told was, “Don’t you know that’s a lot of work?” No doubt at some point during your application, someone is going to tell you this too. To me, it was always a frustrating question, because 1) I did already know that, and 2) It reminded me of the overwhelming amount of work I still needed to do or at least, that’s the way I saw it then. Now though, having gone through the full experience, the effort I put in as an applicant has really helped me develop, both professionally and personally.
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Work Experience at Pathology
In support of my application, I spent time with a histopathologist. This is the doctor who looks at cell samples sent in from human tissue to diagnose a disease (e.g. cancer). Not only that, but I spent time down in the lab itself with the people who put the cells on slides and dye them. I saw all sorts of body parts, several uteruses, a prostate, a breast, a kidney, the works. It was quite surreal, and honestly a great primer for what was to come in the anatomy labs of first and second year.
Overall, this was a wonderful experience to get me engaged with some of the academic aspects of medicine. The placement really helped show me what kind of intellectual challenges face doctors in their worklife, and how the knowledge they accumulate through years of study applies directly to their practice. That made a great little paragraph in my personal statement but also was useful in answering questions in my interview, like “What does a doctor actually do?”. However, while I’d developed this isolated understanding of the work of a doctor, I still felt separated from the more practical, day-to-day side of dealing with patients – Not to mention other healthcare professionals.
Volunteering In Care
To build more healthcare experiences, I helped at my local care home for just over a year, doing simple tasks like washing up and making coffees, as well as chatting to the residents. I certainly got used to watching Pointless every week!
Now, I know how that sounds, and I was definitely in the same boat; I didn’t think it was worth it, to put in all these hours just to talk to people and help out a little and for a lot of the time, it didn’t feel like I was being helpful. But this is a good example of why reflection is so key. In hindsight, I could see that I really made the day of the residents who I spent the most time with, and the nurses grew to rely on me doing the washing up, allowing them to spend more time with the patients.
It was really the first time when I realized that, even as a casual volunteer, I was a small cog in a big health and social care machine that supported the residents of the care home. The staff were always remarkably busy, so I learnt a lot about taking initiative and being independent. I grew up a lot in the year that I was there and learnt a lot about myself in the process. I think my experiences are quite indicative of the value of these community volunteering placements overall and were especially useful at interview.
For my non-medical extracurricular activities, I performed in various productions with the school theatre group. If you looked at it purely from a CV lens, acting worked to show that I was a well-rounded, developed individual who had interests outside of medicine. More importantly though, they gave me an outlet for all the stress.
The medicine application process is a long slog, and certainly was the first time I had put so much effort into something. But acting helped me to take my mind solely out of the process of thinking about what else I needed to do and what part of the process was next.
Finding something like this for yourself, whether it be acting, dancing, playing video games, a sport or even just spending time with friends, is essential to staying resilient through the process, and beyond when you get into medical school. Healthcare experiences are great, but it doesn’t have to be everything you do!
Extra-curricular experiences can be some of the most time-consuming aspects of a medical application. By the same token, they are also the most rewarding and give you a much deeper insight into what the job of a Doctor is actually like, more than any lecture (or blog!) will be able to. These experiences are supposed to act as just that, experience. The best way to show you’ve experienced something useful is to make sure you get a lot out of it and to know what it is that you learnt.
Now get out there! Don’t delay it, get started as soon as you can!
Healthcare experiences help give the impression of what it’s like to be a doctor
Volunteering in healthcare is just as useful as work experience, and gives completely different experiences
Make sure to spend time doing what you love!