What ideas/activities/jobs/things would you recommend for students taking a gap year after their degree to get on to the Medicine course?
Well, there’s the conventional answer which you can get from the work experience criteria of any prospectus or set of application guidelines and then there’s the ‘Deborah’ answer. I assume that you have poured over the written guidance for applicants and you probably know the expectations of each University to which your applying better than you knew your subject before finals. On that basis, I will go with the ‘Deborah’ answer.
It is tempting to say anything will be useful. I am not being flippant. Any role that gives you experience of working with a range of people, requires you to do that pesky thing of turning up to work even when you’d rather not and engages you in serving a wider purpose is valuable. My formative years were spent working in a range of jobs, including on the counter and in the dispensary of a chemist’s, summer play schemes to entertain children in the school holidays, waitressing, recording books and newspapers for the ‘speaking books’ service (yep, I am that old), being an assistant in a nursing home, cooking in a hostel, assisting in a law firm’s head office and answering the ‘phones for a befriending service. I learned a lot from every single one. My confidence, communication skills, work ethic and self-awareness grew exponentially. Clearly, some of the jobs I had are more obviously related to medicine than others, but I am not sure that the obvious connection to medicine matters at all.
Let me explain. If you focus on the qualities expected as a result of work experience rather than the type of job, you are more likely to be a strong applicant for medicine. Work experience is not a requirement or expectation to make your life more difficult. It is a way of evaluating whether you have resilience, whether you can engage with the widest range people, whether you are reliable and stick with something rather than give up, whether you have a realistic understanding of what it is to be in work and put the needs of others before your own, whether you are reflective about yourself, your experiences and what your own
strengths and areas for development might be and whether you can make a contribution to a bigger endeavour. It is rarely, if ever, the job itself that impresses. What makes the impression is the way people talk about and demonstrate what they have learned from the experience. I can still recall the candidates who have talked about their jobs in ways that revealed much about them and their commitment to medicine. The jobs were not remarkable. Sometimes they weren’t even particularly connected to medicine, but the qualities and experiences that the candidates revealed in their discussion were unquestionably what we are seeking.
I do think that whatever you choose, or are able, to do before applying to medicine, there are some principles to think about that might help you make the most of the opportunity. First, do not get hung up on the ‘right’ job. It doesn’t exist. All experience matters and can be meaningful, but that does depend on you seeing the potential for making it count. You should aim to show that you can stick with something. That doesn’t mean doing the same role for the duration, but it does mean more than one or two days here and there. You need to think about demonstrating a willingness and ability to muck in. Much more impressive to see that you are someone who can sustain an ongoing ‘hands on’ role than a ‘shadowing’ experience which gives you a view only of those at the ‘top’ of an organisation or team. Think about yourself and perhaps ask others who know you well for their honest, but constructive, feedback. What do you need to work on? When I was young, I was intimidated by conflict of any kind and constrained by an overriding wish to please. I knew I needed to learn how to say ‘no’, to disagree constructively and to have ‘difficult’ conversations. I made that a particular area of development in all my part-time jobs. It was not a goal known to anyone else, but it did mean I was reflective and actively learning wherever I was working and whatever I was doing.
Whatever you choose to do, the trick is to make the most of it and to know what ‘story’ you have to tell as a result of your work. Some people may be limited, for example by family circumstances or caring responsibilities, in the extent and nature of the work they can undertake. That is fine. Think about your life in its entirety. You don’t need to rely on a job to deliver everything that is required for medicine. Volunteering, friendships, membership of societies and teams within or beyond University, all contribute to making a person
interesting. You may prefer more individual pursuits: reading, drawing, cinema, walking. It doesn’t matter one bit, but think about what you bring as a result of those choices and preferences. Whoever you are, wherever you work, you have something to offer.
Go forth and share it!