Guest blog: Practical advice on gaining medical work experience

Beginning the journey of applying to medical school is daunting. One of the most important things on your journey is arranging medical work experience – but where to start?

The Medic Portal engages with over 500,000 aspiring medical students each year – and here they provide some top tips on how to gain medical work experience!

  1. Work experience programmes

Find out if your local hospital has a work experience programme; if this is the case then it will be much easier to apply. Examples include Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital work experience programmeSome programmes have entry requirements, so make sure you read the instructions on the application forms carefully.

The programmes may allow you to choose a department, or allocate you to one that is suitable. They usually provide a structured timetable too, which can be very reassuring as you know what to expect.

  1. Hospitals, GP surgeries and beyond

Hospitals and GP surgeries can be notoriously difficult for securing placements. If there are no programmes available, you can try to contact them directly. The NHS recommends that you contact “human resources, voluntary services or education and training departments”, so have a look on the internet for the contact details for your local hospital. For a GP placement, you should address a letter or email to the Practice Manager.

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NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP)

The NHS Scientist Training Programme will open in January 2015. The STP is a graduate-entry programme for scientists, where you are paid a salary by the NHS while training.

Postgraduate training for the STP leads to a specifically commissioned and accredited master’s degree and certification of achievement of work-based training following one of nine themed pathways:

For more on the STP application process see here. And if you’re a scientist and want to talk about your career options, why not book an appointment to see one of our Careers Consultants?

What does an Occupational Hygienist do?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):

–          There are 2,000,000 work related deaths and/or injuries per year

–          386,000 deaths each year from exposure to airborne particulates

–          37% of lower back pain is attributed to the workplace

The work of occupational hygienists is centred on eliminating and/or reducing these risks in the work place. It is a niche profession with a small population but if you are good at problem solving, analytical and logical thinking, decision making and you like to help others, then this may be a good career option for you.

What do they do?

The definition of Occupational Hygiene given by the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA) is as follows: ‘…the discipline of anticipating, recognising, evaluation and controlling health hazards in the working environment with the objective of protecting worker health and well-being and safeguarding the community at large.’ Occupational hygiene is where science and engineering meets the human element of the work place. Examples of some of the activities of occupational hygienists include surveys and evaluating work place situations, carrying out risk assessments, eliminating and/or reducing risks by facilitating organisational change.

How do I pursue it?

Education, training and experience are all important aspects of an occupational hygienist’s career. Professional qualifications are usually gained by either full or part time study whilst working however the most common qualifications are either an MSc from a university or a diploma from the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS).  A career in occupational hygiene will usually mean you come from a science or engineering based educational background – however many people move into occupational hygiene from other disciplines. Occupational hygienists make use of both practical and scientific knowledge and so it is a role that is open to a wide range of technical graduates.

www.prospects.ac.uk/occupational_hygienist_job_description.htm – read more about becoming an occupational hygienist here.

www.bohs.org/occupationalhygieneexplained/ – also have a look at the videos on this website that explain more about what occupational hygiene is and what a career in occupational hygiene is like.

Novlet Levy

Careers Information Assistant

NHS Scientist Training Programme – Is it for me?

You have probably heard about the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), seen as one of the main professional options for science graduates wanting to work in healthcare. So is it one of the options for you to consider after you graduate, and if it is how best to prepare for a successful application? Here are some impressions from reading and talking about this career, but don’t forget to have a look at the more comprehensive official website as well – link at the end of the post.

Is this scheme the default option if I am taking a science degree and am interested in healthcare?

The short answer is no as the scheme is so competitive. In 2013 there were 8000 applicants for 300 places in the whole of the UK. Not all applicants are fresh out of an undergraduate degree either, which makes the competition even fiercer. However, if you think you would like to do lab and scientific analysis in a hospital or other clinical setting, working in a team with other scientists, doctors and nurses, and do not want a research career, then it might be very well worth finding out more and giving it a go!

Who is the scheme not for?

You will have noticed that I mentioned above that this is not a research career. If you want to discover the next new cancer gene, virus or metabolite, this is not the profession for you. This is a routine analysis role, where creativity and innovation can be best expressed by improving existing processes. The scheme is also not for people who would like a 9 to 5 job as continuous training and shift work is required. It is also not good as a plan B for a career such as medicine. You will probably need to do specific preparation to be a competitive applicant and remember that as the number of places are very few, the NHS interviewers will be looking for applicants who are really committed to the scheme as a professional choice.

It might be the very thing for me, how do I give it a go?

The first step is to try and confirm it is indeed a good option for you. During the application process and at interview you will be required to demonstrate knowledge of the profession anyway so you need to find out more about it. The two main routes are to write to labs asking to arrange a visit, and to go to one of the scheme’s open days. You might have an NHS clinical scientist visit the college – here at Queen Mary we have managed to arrange that for the last two years.

This is also the time to start thinking about which strand you will apply for. Some of them such as medical physics, bioinformatics or medical engineering are more clearly targeted at specific degrees, however if you are taking a biology-related degree you will probably have at least ten different options to choose from. Besides area of interest and practical experience, you should also ask about how competitive they are – for example for the immunology strand most successful applicants have a PhD.

The next step is to think about timelines. The deadline for applications for the scheme starting in the autumn of a particular year is usually January of that same year. So if you are aiming to get in the scheme as soon as you graduate, you need to start the application process in the autumn term of your final year.

And finally what do you need to have in place for a competitive application? Besides a good knowledge of the scheme as mentioned before, probably the main examples necessary are of good team work and communication skills. It is a common misconception that you need a lot of lab experience – as long as you can explain well the lab skills you developed during your degree those should be sufficient. Don’t let the fact that a lab summer internship might not be required make you complacent about extra-curricular work experience though – successful candidates have a lot of stuff on their CV besides their degree so you do need some extra-curricular activities besides your grades. But then this is the case for almost any graduate job or scheme nowadays!

You can find out more about the scheme here: http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/healthcare-science/training/nhs-scientist-training-programme-(stp)/

And don’t forget you can get support with your CV, application and preparation for interview here at the Careers and Enterprise Centre.

Good luck!

Maya Mendiratta

Careers Consultant, Careers and Enterprise Centre