How To Get Work Experience For Medicine (With Email Templates)

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 is a key component of any application to medical school.

Considering its vital importance to securing an offer, how can you get work experience for medicine?

The best way to gain work experience for a medicine application is to contact a large number of wide-ranging organisations six months to a year before applying to medical school. Local hospitals, GP practices, or care homes can all offer excellent opportunities for aspiring medical students.

There are in fact eight main ways that students can get work experience for medicine:

  1. Asking friends or family who work in healthcare
  2. Utilising their school’s work experience program
  3. Volunteering in their community
  4. Organising a placement at a local GP practice
  5. Contacting local hospitals to arrange shadowing
  6. Using paid employment as work experience
  7. Going on an overseas work experience placement
  8. Signing up for virtual work experience programs

In this article, I’m going to explore each method in detail, in addition to giving you exact email templates that you can use to contact hospitals or care homes to arrange work experience.

Ask Friends And Family Who Work In Healthcare

The first, and possibly the most obvious method, is to ask any friends or family who work in healthcare if they can help you organise a placement.

Whilst this opportunity isn’t available to everyone, if you do have any contacts in healthcare you can save yourself a lot of trouble by utilising them.

Popular hospitals and GP practices will be constantly bombarded with work experience requests from students just like yourself- so it can be incredibly helpful if you’ve got an inside man (or woman).

Just because you don’t have a family member who’s a doctor doesn’t mean this avenue isn’t open to you.

Placements with physios, nurses, healthcare assistants or pharmacists can all be just as valuable as shadowing a doctor.

You might be surprised by your network- even just by knowing someone in an administrative role in a hospital or GP practice can mean they can put a good word in for you with the right person.

If you know anyone from the years above you at school who’s now studying medicine it could always be worth reaching out to them to see if they have the contact details of who they arranged their work experience with.

Check If Your School Has A Work Experience Program

Your school can be an absolute goldmine for assistance when it comes to a medicine application.

You’re unlikely to be the first student who’s applied to medicine from the school (and it’s even less likely that you’ll be the last) so there may be help available that you didn’t even know existed.

Have a chat with your class tutor or careers advisor to see if there are any established programs for helping students find placements.

They may have a list of contacts at local healthcare providers who are all more than happy to accept students from the school.

A healthcare assistant comforting a patient in A&E

By having some sort of established relationship, healthcare providers are far more likely to be receptive to you trying to arrange a placement compared to reaching out cold to an organisation.

Even if they don’t have an up-to-date contact list, tutors may know where students have had success with in the past.

They can then point you towards hospitals or GP practices that are most likely going to be able to accommodate you.

Gain Work Experience By Volunteering In Your Community

One of the best ways to gain work experience for medicine is through volunteering.

This could be volunteering at a care home, volunteering in a charity shop or volunteering at your local Scout group.

By volunteering your time over a period of weeks to months, you’ll add value to your community whilst gathering valuable experiences that you can reflect on at interview or in your personal statement.

I personally volunteered at a local care home for just a couple of hours a week over a period of about a year.

This was perfect to show my longstanding dedication to learning about a caregiver’s role but not so overwhelming that all my free time was sucked into my work experience.

(Find out exactly how much work experience you need for medicine here.)

However, don’t think that just because you’re giving up your time for free places will always get back to you.

My town has over ten care homes in a relatively small area and I think I reached out to every one of them.

I’m pretty sure only two got back to me.

However, one is all you need so with some persistence you’ll be sure to land the perfect placement.

Here’s a ready-made email script that you can use to blast out an email to all your local care homes (or you can slightly tweak it for whichever organisation you’re applying to):

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is [Ollie] and I’m currently a year [12] student at [X school]. I’m hoping to apply to medical school next summer so to learn more about medicine and a carer’s role I would love to have the opportunity to volunteer at your care home.

I would be more than happy to assist in the day-to-day running of the home and care of the residents in any way I can- be that organising activities, lending a hand with meal times or even just talking to them.

I’d be able to volunteer for a couple of hours every [week/fortnight/Monday etc.] and would love to build a longer term relationship with the residents over a period of about [nine] months. I’ve attached a brief CV for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

[Ollie]

I’d then attach a brief CV with your contact details, any past jobs you’ve had and where you’ve studied.

Be sure to send the email from your school or a professional-sounding email address and not “pony-princess999@gmail.com”!

Reach Out To Local GP Practices For Work Experience

Being able to land some work experience at a local GP practice can be a fantastic opportunity to gain a genuine insight into the day-to-day work of a doctor.

About 50% of medical graduates go on to become GPs so statistically, it’s the job that you’re most likely to end up doing!

The only downside is that actually getting the work experience at a GPs can be incredibly difficult.

GP practices are by and large extremely busy so they might have a hard time fitting in a work experience student around chocker block clinics for the doctors.

Generally, the person you’ll want to speak to is the practice manager.

If you have a personal connection to one of the GPs then of course go through them, but otherwise the practice manager is who will likely be able to coordinate your placement for you.

However, don’t worry if you can only find the generic email inbox for the practice. I’d recommend sending them something like this:

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is [Ollie] and I’m currently a year [12] student at [X school]. I’m hoping to apply to medical school next summer so would greatly value the opportunity to learn more about healthcare delivery in the community.

I understand that you must be very busy as a practice but I’d truly appreciate any period of time I’d be able to shadow one of your practice’s clinicians.

Gaining a greater understanding of how any of the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists or phlebotomists work would be incredibly valuable to me as a future medicine applicant. I’ve attached a brief CV for your consideration and look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

[Ollie]

Ideally, you’d then follow up on any email communication with an in-person visit.

Considering how easy it is to lose an email in a busy practice inbox, don’t be disheartened if you don’t get an immediate reply.

If you’re able to, I’d try and get down to the practice to hand your CV and a cover letter in (which would basically just be the email above) to reception staff in person.

If you’re speaking to someone face-to-face it can be far easier for one of the reception staff to call the practice manager down (if they’re in) so you can have a conversation on the spot- rather than dealing with lots of back-and-forth email communication.

Contact Local Hospitals To Arrange Work Experience

Hospital work experience is often packed full of exciting and interesting experiences that are all goldmines for you as a medicine applicant.

You can watch operations being done right in front of you, see acutely unwell patients come in through the front door in A&E or be a fly on the wall for heartbreaking conversations in an oncology clinic.

The vast majority of hospitals will have an established system for accepting work experience students.

There will normally be a dedicated person who monitors a specific work experience email inbox to manage the requests that are undoubtedly constantly being sent in.

Due to this volume of interested students, a period of hospital shadowing can be hard to secure despite its value.

Just as when contacting a GP practice, I wouldn’t limit yourself to only shadowing doctors.

You’ll still get a huge amount of value by working alongside a nurse on the wards, an operating department practitioner in theatres or even a porter moving patients through the hospital.

A porter transferring a patient by trolley in hospital

Depending on your age, there are also generally plenty of volunteering opportunities in every hospital.

This could be making cups of tea for patients waiting in A&E, working the till at the hospital charity shop or just going around to chat with some of the longer-term patients.

You’ll often be able to find these opportunities on a ‘voluntary services’ page of a hospital’s website.

Just be warned that they are generally looking for a bit of a longer-term commitment from their volunteers- think six months to a year rather than a couple of weeks.

Application processing can also be painfully slow with numerous hoops to jump through so get in early to get the ball rolling if you can.

Get Work Experience From Paid Employment

As I’m sure you’ve realised by now, work experience doesn’t just have to come in the form of shadowing health professionals in either hospital or the community.

You can get just as much bang for your buck out of a job that involves interacting with the public or a caring role.

For example, I worked as a swimming teacher in sixth form and was able to draw on experiences I had teaching the children and interacting with the parents throughout my medicine application.

One of my best friends worked as a GP receptionist in the run-up to his application, giving him a great insight into the inner workings of a practice as well as dealing with the general public.

Although more healthcare-orientated jobs, such as working as a healthcare assistant, are fantastic, just remember your employment doesn’t have to have anything to do with medicine for you to be able to draw value from it.

What’s going to get you the real brownie points are sticky situations, times you had to break bad news to a customer, diffuse a tense standoff or comfort a co-worker.

Your reflections on these experiences are what will bolster your application rather than the settings in which they actually occurred.

Go Overseas For Work Experience Placements

Another option for gaining work experience is to travel abroad to experience another country’s healthcare system.

There are a number of companies that specialise in delivering these sorts of work experience packages. They’ll have contacts at local hospitals or clinics so can set you up with a suitable placement in country and will often provide you with accommodation and food as well.

You can shadow local doctors anywhere from Kenya to Mexico to the Philippines!

These sorts of services don’t come cheap though- packages generally start at about £1000 and can go all the way up to about £3000+ when flights and living costs are included.

Whilst an overseas placement can be an excellent method of bolstering a thin work experience portfolio, medical schools are all too aware that their associated costs make them unattainable for many applicants.

A boy having his blood pressure taken

Because of this, you should ideally avoid relying entirely on paid-for packages and services when it comes to your application.

If you do have the means and are considering it though, I have no doubt that you can have an absolutely fantastic experience learning more about medicine abroad.

A couple of the most popular providers of these experiences include:

If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, there’s also nothing stopping you from arranging a sort of DIY overseas placement.

For my medical elective, which is an opportunity to undertake an overseas medical placement near the end of medical school, I was lucky enough to secure a placement at a hospital in Pokhara, Nepal.

With a bit of precision Googling I was able to get in contact with one of the members of staff at the hospital in order to sort out the placement and my accomodation.

Although this can be a bit more of a headache than using a pre-packaged service, by putting in the legwork yourself you can end up saving a fair chunk of change.

Sign Up To A Virtual Work Experience Program

The last method for getting medical work experience is a relatively new one, having only really come into existence since the COVID pandemic.

Virtual work experience offers you the chance to get a behind-the-curtains look at healthcare delivery from the comfort of your own home!

There’s a broad mix of programs available, from free to paid, from virtual modules teaching you about the NHS to actually getting to watch a live video stream of a doctor consulting a patient.

Just as with overseas placements though, ideally, you shouldn’t solely rely on virtual experiences for your application.

At one point they were essentially the only way students could gain exposure to a healthcare environment, but now things have opened back up you should aim to get some in-person placements as well.

Free virtual work experience opportunities

Brighton and Sussex Medical School’s Virtual Work Experience

“This course provides a ‘virtual’ work experience for those looking to apply to medical school. You will be introduced to the NHS before exploring the roles and skill sets of six different medical specialists. Along the way, you will also consider some of the challenges and wider issues doctors face.”

Observe GP

“Observe GP is an alternative to work experience for aspiring medics aged 16 and over, who are living in the UK. It is a free interactive video platform providing insights into the role of a GP and the wider primary care team.”

Springpod

Springpod is a site that collates numerous different virtual work experience opportunities together so you can easily find one that suits you. Once you’ve signed up, Springpod will keep you up-to-date as new opportunities are added to their site so you can jump in a secure a spot.

Paid virtual work experience opportunities

Future Learn

Future Learn is an online course bank that offers a range of free and paid-for courses, such as this one from the University of Leicester: “This four-week course has been specifically designed to help you discover the skills needed to work in various healthcare roles. It will help you learn more about the industry and make an informed decision about whether this career path is right for you.”

Final Thoughts

Being a cornerstone of the vast majority of successful medicine applications, you can’t afford to drop the ball when it comes to your work experience.

As daunting as arranging all these different placements may seem, the key is to just start early and cast your net wide.

That way you’ll have plenty of time to deal with slow-replying organisations and it won’t be a complete disaster if one particular place can’t accommodate you.

By playing the numbers game you’ll be sure to land a placement at some point- and it’s definitely quality over quantity when it comes to work experience so you really don’t need that much of it in the grand scheme of things.

With a bit of patience, you’ll soon be well on your way to having a solid foundation for your upcoming application.

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.