Before I started Uni nearly four years ago, I did quite a bit of volunteering, working in hospitals and internships. My first proper full time job was when I graduated high school and signed up for a volunteering program at a hospital in my home town to work as a health care assistant at a intensive care unit, helping out on the stroke unit where patients needed a lot of caring. At the same time I worked on the weekends in another hospital at the hospitals kitchen, preparing and serving the patients dinner. I got very interested in surgery after spending a few weeks as an intern at the surgery department and after my volunteering year, I joined in in a apprenticeship program for surgical assistants, which was full time as well and meant that I spend most of my time in surgery and having theoretical lesson on Anatomy, Biochemistry, Surgery, etc. once a week.
This working experiences helped me so much with my personal development and just with growing up, they showed me a completely different world with super high hierarchy, I learned to socialise with completely strangers in a very specific not common setting such as a patient with a stroke needing help with sanitariness and going to the bathroom.
I’m pretty certain that in todays time getting to Medical school isn’t easy in any country and taking a gap year(s) has become a common thing and also, there are a lot of Universities who really want to see a certain amount of work experience of their applicants.
I think that a lot of people assume that during this work experiences it’s going to be absolutely clear if someone wants to study Medicine or not and often there is an idea of experiencing a certain moment where everything clicked and you basically felt that you are going to be a doctor for life, full filled with passion and aspiration. And that bit is slightly problematic for me personally because it’s not always the case.
Despite the fact that most of high school graduates are super young, unexperienced and maybe never had a proper job before, I feel like this kind of experiences are so much depending on your surroundings, your colleagues, the staffs willing of teaching you something and work conditions. It depends on the tasks you get and the people (!). It is hard to commit to a life long carrier such as Medicine by stepping one foot into an internship or volunteering program at such a young age and it sometimes can be a disheartening experience, specially if you have high expectations. It’s quite rare to actually learn what the life of a doctor looks like during this placements (which is something some Universities assume you learn by attending pre Medschool internships etc.). I don’t want to generalize, so I just give you my personal experience and thoughts: When I attended my first placement at a hospital, just after graduating and without any further academical or working know how, I was on the base of that hospital hierarchy. I rarely had any contact to doctors and just was allowed to stay in the patients room during ward round and just tried to not get into someones way basically, which is a very common thing.
And also, there is this a certain problem with lack of knowledge. When I attended my surgery internship, I watched surgeries every day for 8 hours for weeks and weeks. At first, I was excited and nervous to be in that complete new environment. But the thing is, watching something like hourlong surgeries without understanding anything what is going on wasn’t full filling for me personally. I remember one surgeon asking me if I had any questions and I didn’t even know what to ask because I didn’t understood what I was watching.
I think my volunteering year was the most helpful to me tho, just because I had so much patient contact and learned quite a bit about diseases and symptoms, which probably gave me a little bit of an extra sense of why I want to do Medicine and I would recommend doing it. But I wouldn’t necessary say that every work experience in a medical field is super helpful. Don’t feel like you have to follow that romanticized idea of falling in love with Medicine or know what to expect for the decades of your life after attending a few internships or work experiences. And please, don’t be put off by a bad or disheartening experience!