About the course

Why do I need to do work experience before applying to medical school?

When applying to medical school, it is important to demonstrate that you have an understanding of what it means to work in medicine, which is normally achieved through undertaking work experience. This is normally a temporary or long-term placement or employment in a healthcare setting, such as a community surgery or a hospital ward. The purpose of work experience is to provide individual insight into the roles of healthcare professionals, the structure and function of healthcare services and teams, and the wider issues surrounding medical practice and the NHS. This allows potential medical school applicants more informed decisions about whether they want to apply to study medicine or not. Importantly, work experience gives applicants an opportunity to assess themselves and see if they have the skills and qualities that make them suited for a career as a doctor.

Medicine is a physically and emotionally-demanding career, and it is important that prospective medical students understand what they’re potentially signing up for when applying to medical school.

What is reflection?

Just doing work experience is not enough; the best applicants to medical school are not the ones with the largest amounts of work experience to describe. Using these experiences to best support your application requires to critically analyse them in a process called reflection.

Reflecting means looking at an experience and asking questions; for example, why did that happen? Did that go well or badly? What were the factors that affected what happened? If this were to happen again, would I approach the situation differently? What are the wider implications / lessons to be learnt from this consultation? Importantly, reflection is a way of finding out how a particular experience has changed your perception of how things work. It is also a way of finding out about yourself, including your skills and qualities, and what you would want from your future career.

Reflection doesn’t stop once you’ve been accepted into medical school; students and doctors and continually required to reflect on their practice to recognise goals for their own development.

Where can you do relevant work experience?

Work experience in any healthcare setting would be relevant and valuable to applying to medical school, providing it is sufficient enough for you to properly reflect and learn from it. Commonly, people seek work experience in primary care settings, such as general practice or pharmacy. Work in high-level care environments such as hospitals or hospices provide equally rewarding but very different experiences of medicine and the NHS.

Relevant work experience does not just include that undertaken in a healthcare environment; experience in other areas can be just as appropriate and valuable. For example, working in a nursery or in customer service can help you demonstrate that you have some of the important skills or qualities that would help you succeed as a doctor.

The Medical Schools Council has produced some guidance for work experience in light of COVID-19, which you can access here.

How can I organise work experience?

Work experience can be difficult to acquire, especially for younger applicants to medical school. This might be due to the limited availability of work experience placements, the common prerequisite of healthcare experience and minimum age requirements for commencing placements. As such, applicants that have attempted to organise work experience but have failed are often at a disadvantage when applying to UK medical schools, which have a notoriously competitive application process.

There is no central system for applying for work experience in the NHS. The best way to organise work experience is to directly approach the organisation you want to be placed with. For example, NHS trusts often have their own voluntary services departments that organise work experience placements within hospitals or outpatient settings.

What is the aim of this course?

This is a virtual work experience tool designed to provide some of the most important points you might have learnt in real-world work experience about being a doctor in the NHS. Vitally, the course also gives you opportunity to become familiar with reflecting on your experiences in order to make them as valuable to you as possible.

The six different medical specialties are explored using presentations, patient cases and quizzes. Each module focuses on common clinical situations that you might have encountered in real work experience and highlight important points related to being a doctor, such as skills and qualities. It is not designed to increase your understanding of science and medical theory.

This course is not designed to completely replace experience completed in the real world, but to provide an insight into medicine and being a doctor. The content explored may supplement work experience already achieved and/or allow you to build knowledge in areas of medicine you may have not had access to. As such, this virtual work experience tool will help you make an informed decision of whether applying to medical school is right for you.

Objectives of this course:

  • Understand the organisation of the NHS in terms of primary, secondary and tertiary care
  • Recognise the ways in which patients can access healthcare and how and why patients move through different services in the NHS
  • Become familiar with reflecting on work experience
  • Develop and understanding of the roles of different types of doctor, including GPs, consultants and foundation doctors
  • Appreciate the ways that a doctor and other HCPs can manage patients
  • Consider the typical training pathways and timelines in common branches of medicine
  • Identify the most important skills and qualities that doctors should possess and be developing throughout their career, and give examples of why these are so important
  • Consider the biggest present and future challenges faced by the NHS
  • Stimulate thinking into the wider considerations surrounding modern medicine, including politics, law and ethics


See below for a few example of reflective pieces that participants have submitted:

Becoming a General Practitioner Poem

Why is communication important in medicine?
A comic highlighting various specialties 

What will you be provided with on completion?

  • Certificate of completion of the virtual work experience course
  • Transcript of reflective work
  • Something interesting to talk about in your personal statement and/or medical school interviews!

Course content

  • 1

    Introduction to Course

    • Pre-course survey

    • Introduction to BSMS VWE

    • Interview with Malcolm Reed

    • Glossary of Terms

    • Glossary Quiz

  • 2

    Module 1 - The NHS and General Practice

    • Introduction and Learning Outcomes

    • Presentation 1 - Introduction to the NHS

    • Quiz 1 - Introduction to the NHS

    • Presentation 2 - What does a GP do? (part 1)

    • Taking a Patient History

    • Presentation 2 - What does a GP do? (part 2)

    • Quiz 2 - What does a GP do?

    • Presentation 3 - What problems does a GP manage?

    • Quiz 3 - What problems does a GP manage?

    • Presentation 4 - How can you train to become a GP?

    • Quiz 4 - How can you train to become a GP?

    • Presentation 5 - Who else works in a GP surgery?

    • Presentation 6 - Challenges of Working in General Practice

    • Summary & Further Information

  • 3

    Module 2 - Elderly Medicine

    • Introduction & Learning Outcomes

    • Presentation 1 - Introduction to Elderly Medicine

    • Quiz 1 - Introduction to Elderly Medicine

    • Presentation 2 - The Elderly Medicine Ward Round

    • Quiz 2 - The Elderly Medicine Ward Round

    • Presentation 3 - Other Health Problems in Elderly Patients

    • Quiz 3 - Other Health Problems in Elderly Patients

    • Summary & Further Information

  • 4

    Module 3 - Mental Health

    • Introduction & Learning Outcomes

    • Presentation 1 - Introduction to Mental Health

    • Quiz 1 - Introduction to Mental Health

    • Presentation 2 - Depression & Anxiety

    • Quiz 2 - Depression & Anxiety

    • Presentation 3 - Schizophrenia and Other Psychiatric Problems

    • Quiz 3 - Schizophrenia and Other Psychiatric Problems

    • Summary & Further Information

  • 5

    Module 4 - Surgery & Inpatient Medicine

    • Introduction & Learning Outcomes

    • Presentation 1 - Introduction to Surgery

    • Quiz 1 - Introduction to Surgery

    • Presentation 2 - A Surgical Ward Round

    • Presentation 3 - Difficult Scenarios in Surgery

    • Summary & Further Information

  • 6

    Module 5 - Emergency Medicine

    • Introduction & Learning Outcomes

    • Presentation 1 - Introduction to Emergency Medicine and ABCDE

    • Activity 1: ABO Blood Groups

    • Activity 2: The Blood Typing Game

    • Presentation 1: An Introduction to Emergency Medicine (Part 2)

    • Activity 3 - Lifesaver Interactive (Resuscitation Council)

    • Quiz 1 - Introduction to Emergency Medicine and ABCDE

    • Presentation 2 - On the Emergency Floor

    • Summary and Further Information

  • 7

    Module 6 - Palliative Medicine & Communication Skills

    • Introduction & Learning Outcomes

    • Presentation 1 - Introduction to Palliative Medicine & Cancer

    • Presentation 2 - Communication Skills

    • Presentation 3 - Ethics in Palliative Care

    • Quiz 1: Palliative Medicine & Communication Skils

    • Summary & Further Information

  • 8

    Reflections

    • Work Experience Reflection

Course reviews

"I particularly enjoyed exploring the different areas of healthcare, learning about what they entail and the day to day challenges they face. It has made me more aware of the diverse environment that healthcare exists in.”

Feedback from a participant based in Birmingham

"Finally, the module highlighted to me the importance of strong communication and efficient team work within a multidisciplinary team…This has encouraged me to partake in my communication-based activities in the future, so that I can further develop this skill." 

Extract from a reflective piece submitted by a user based in Bognor Regis