Medical Work Experience At Different Ages: 15, 16, 17 Year Olds

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.

As medicine becomes ever more competitive, students are being forced to begin working on their applications at an earlier and earlier age in order to try and get a head-start on the competition.

From year 10, students may be looking to the future and trying to arrange hospital or GP placements, in addition to getting the ball rolling with some volunteering.

However, can a 15-year-old even legally work in a hospital? Is there a minimum age to do virtual work experience? Or how about actually working in healthcare?

I’m going to address all of the above (plus a whole lot more) in this article, so read on!

At What Age Can You Do Work Experience In A Hospital?

If you’ve already decided on medicine as a career then there’s nothing wrong with getting ahead of things by trying to arrange a hospital placement early.

But if you’re in year 10, or you’re 15-years-old, are you still able to do this? How about 16? Or do you have to be 18 to do work experience in a hospital?

Many hospitals have a minimum age of 16 for full clinical work experience participation. Some will offer a more limited package to 15-year-olds or younger, however, others will flatly not accept under-16s. Individual policies do vary between hospitals so it is always worth checking with the staff.

16 is generally the age from which you’ll be able to get the most from your work experience.

Doing too much too early won’t actually really benefit your application either- medical schools generally want to see evidence of work experience within the two years directly preceding an application.

A doctor explaining a scan to a work experience student

This is true whether you’re an 18-year-old who did a placement when they were 15 or if you’re a postgraduate who did some work experience before going to university the first time around.

Instead of trying to bolster your application, your current motivation for seeking out work experience at a young age may in fact be to decide whether you actually you want to pursue medicine or not.

If this is the case for you, then I think it’s a great idea to go find out what doctors actually do for yourself. But, you will need to double check with any hospitals or GP practices you apply to that they accept under-16s.

At What Age Can You Work In A Medical Field?

Another great way to give your application a leg-up whilst also earning some money at the same time is to actually get a job in a medical field.

To be employed in a medical field, such as working as a healthcare assistant or care worker, you must be 16 years old or above. To start studying to become a nurse or a doctor, however, you generally must be 18 years old or above.

If you are able to hold done a healthcare related job then it can in some ways be a golden egg for your medicine application:

Strengthening your CV whilst also putting money in your pocket!

The only downside is that they can be a bit of a time-drain as your employer will normally expect a fair commitment in terms of hours worked each work.

I was lucky enough to get a job as a swimming teacher with a special needs swimming club during my application and my friend landed a job as a GP receptionist.

Neither are quite as ideal as actually working as a carer, as an example, but they did both serve a definite purpose and gave us a bit of pocket money!

As a side note, you can find out what the minimum age to go to medical school is here.

Does Volunteering Work Experience Have A Minimum Age?

Volunteering is a type of medical work experience that can be great to supplement the more ‘direct observation’ type placements you might have done in either hospital or a GP practice.

You can volunteer at a charity, a business, or even the NHS! But is there a minimum age to get involved?

Broadly, there is no set minimum age to be a volunteer with an organisation. However, for practicalities sake, organisations that would be beneficial to a student’s medical school application may be unwilling to accept students under the age of 14.

Instead of just doing two weeks shadowing a junior doctor on a ward, with volunteering you may want to develop a longer term relationship with the organisation- often 12-18 months in length.

These sorts of positions often come with a bit more responsibility too, so the organisation wants to make sure their volunteer will be up to the challenge- so setting a minimum age is an easy way for them to do this.

You can find a list of 9 different fantastic organisations who are all a perfect fit for a medicine applicant to volunteer with here, all of which you can get involved with totally for free.

Can You Do Virtual Work Experience At Any Age?

Virtual work experience can be a great compromise if you’re under-16 (so can’t get the full hospital experience) but are still keen to get involved.

Students are able to participate in virtual work experience for medicine at any age. However, just as with ‘live’ work experience, students should be aware that medical schools generally want to see evidence of work experience within the two years preceding an application.

If you’re too young to be able to arrange a shadowing placement then a ‘virtual’ experience could be the perfect way to get a taste of the experience you’d otherwise have had.

Virtual medical work experience

Although ‘virtual’ work experience is never going to be a direct one-to-one swap with actual time spent on the wards or in clinic, it is still a long way better than nothing!

If you’re raring to get going, despite being a couple of years out from your application deadline, don’t be afraid to dip your toes in the water by doing a couple of these virtual work experience courses.

I just wouldn’t go crazy and do them all as there are other things that might be better for you to spend your time on at this stage of your education.

Final Thoughts

Your age can go some way to determine how much medical work experience you’ll be able to arrange for yourself.

However, as we’ve seen, just because you’re under-18 doesn’t mean you have to sit on your hands till your birthday.

There are plenty of brilliant opportunities for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds, you just have to know what’s available to you.

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.