Can You Get Into Medicine Without Work Experience?

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Work experience for medicine can be hard to come by. Due to the sheer volume of requests they receive, hospitals and GP surgeries alike often find themselves having to turn hopeful students away.

If you’ve experienced this difficulty in securing a good placement yourself, you may be wondering if you can get into medical school without work experience?

Students can get into medical school without any work experience. However, there will normally need to be some justification evidenced in their personal statement or given at interview. Medical schools broadly highly value at least some experience in their applicants.

If you do have circumstances that meant you weren’t able to get any work experience before applying, you don’t need to worry that you’ll be rejected out-of-hand.

However, as I’ll explain in the article, if that reason was that you weren’t organised enough to get a placement sorted then you may not be in so much luck!

Do You Need Work Experience To Get Into Medicine?

I think medical schools are generally quite understanding of the fact that, in a lot of instances, life can get in the way of securing the perfect work experience placement.

Whether that be because you struggled with your health over the year and so weren’t able to make any of your scheduled placements, you’re a carer for a family member so can’t afford to take the time away or any number of other equally valid other reasons.

If you’re in this position, the key for your application will be to make sure the medical schools you’re applying to are aware of your unique circumstances.

I’d recommend talking about your circumstances in your personal statement and potentially sending an additional letter with your application explaining why you weren’t able to get any work experience.

Medical schools don’t look favourably on candidates who just haven’t been bothered to seek out the necessary placements.

Now equally, you may be in a position of wanting to apply to medicine but not having any work experience because it was a last minute change of heart.

Again, I think it would be worth explaining this fact in your personal statement. There’s no point lying and saying you’ve had a life-long passion for medicine if your application clearly doesn’t back that up.

Depending on what you’ve been able to squeeze in since deciding on medicine, you may or may not be successful this time around.

Even so, there’s no harm in applying this year as it will be great practice- but I think you just have to be realistic that other candidates, due to the luxury of time having been on their side, may have stronger applications than you.

Check out my complete guide to medical work experience here.

Is Only Having Virtual Work Experience Okay?

Since the COVID pandemic, there’s been a considerable rise in the number (and quality) of ‘virtual’ work experience courses available online.

These range from sort of like e-learning courses where you may learn about, say, the structure of the NHS, to video feeds of operations, GP surgeries or A&E.

Whilst showing engagement by participating in a few is better than nothing, they’re definitely not a complete replacement for ‘live’ work experience.

A student on a hospital work experience placement

At the height of the pandemic, these sorts of courses were the only things available to medicine applicants. However, now lockdown has eased I think medical schools will start expecting more and more in terms of ‘live’ experience from their students.

This isn’t to say it wouldn’t be valuable to supplement your live work experience with some virtual learning, but without extenuating circumstances I’d try and avoid relying on it entirely.

Why Do Medical Schools Want You To Have Done Work Experience?

Medical schools want their applicants to have done at least some work experience for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, it gives the medical school a bit more confidence that an applicant actually understands what they’re signing up for!

It’s all well and good saying you want to be a doctor because you’ve watched too many episodes of ‘Scrubs,’ but another to still hold that conviction after shadowing real-life doctors and seeing what they actually do day-to-day in hospital.

Admittedly, two weeks in a GP surgery or hospital isn’t going to give you the full picture of what a career in medicine will be like but it’s better than nothing!

The highest drop-out rate in medical school is in the first year– representing a lot students who get to university and find that studying medicine really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Even though they’ve been there for less than a year, these drop-outs still represent a loss of investment to the medical schools.

They’ve had up to a year’s worth of valuable tuition and are reducing the final number of doctors that medical school will produce in five years time.

By selecting students who have evidence of work experience, they’re more likely to have a more realistic view of medicine as a vocation and so in theory would be less likely to drop out.

The second reason medical schools want you to have done work experience is because they use it as a sort of surrogate marker for a student’s dedication to the profession.

Watching an operation while on work experience

A student who’s been volunteering at a hospice for the last 18 months is likely going to be far more committed to the degree than someone who’s arranged a last-minute two-day placement in A&E because they’ve suddenly decided they want to be a doctor.

Although this is of course in no way a perfect method to measure a student’s dedication, it does go someway to differentiating the sea of applicants the medical schools have to sift through each year.

What’s The Minimum Amount Of Work Experience You Need?

As discussed above, for most medical schools, there isn’t really a ‘minimum’ amount of work you need- because you can get in without any at all.

For this to be the case though, a medical school will have had to evaluate your circumstances as sufficient for them to waive this normally integral part of the application process.

Due to everyone’s individual circumstances, it’s difficult to say exactly how much a medical school would expect you to have done.

Some universities do set an explicit minimum, but I imagine a university would still consider your application even if it fell below this minimum if you had extenuating circumstances.

Broadly, 2 weeks is a good minimum to aim for. Ideally being one week in hospital and one week in a GP practice.

You can see exactly how much work experience each university expects from its applicants as well as a more in-depth discussion in this article about how much work experience you need for medicine.

Final Thoughts

Although it’s entirely possible to get into medical school without any work experience, I would encourage you to get anything you can, however small.

It will still be beneficial if it’s just a bit of virtual work experience, just a couple of days with a family friend who’s a nurse or even just sitting down to speak to a doctor face-to-face.

By going out of your way to gather as much experience as you can, despite any factors that may have held you back, you’ll show the medical schools that you’ve made the best of your situation and are just as passionate about medicine as any other candidate.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.