Virtual work experience is now something that we see in almost every medical school application. Medical virtual work experience, which used to be something that would set applicants apart, has now virtually become a requirement in producing a competitive UCAS application. 

But do you understand what actually counts as virtual work experience? And what you should include in your UCAS application? 

We recently did a poll and found that 92% of applicants were not sure of what exactly counted as virtual work experience, or had an incorrect idea of what experiences to include in their personal statement.

We reached out to interview panels and doctors involved in the UCAS application process, and found out exactly what counts as virtual work experience, so you can better decide which events to attend and which services to pay for, to create the best possible application.

What actually counts as virtual work experience?

The most important rule on whether your experience counts as virtual work experience is if you have actually shadowed healthcare professionals, ideally doctors, in their work environment. After all, the aim of virtual work experience is to gain experience in the workplace. 

This usually means shadowing GPs in their practices or clinicians in their hospitals, but can also include observing nurses, physiotherapists and other allied healthcare professionals in their role.

Shadowing doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be helping them with their job. It simply means observing doctors as they go about their daily tasks. This could involve watching GP consultations, observing hospital doctors doing a ward round and witnessing surgeons perform surgeries. 

Any experience which involves observing healthcare professionals in their work environment counts as virtual work experience. 

So the next time you find an event online and are wondering whether this actually counts as virtual work experience, ask yourself this question: am I directly observing a healthcare professional doing their job in their work environment? If the answer is no, then unfortunately this does not count as virtual work experience. 

How much virtual work experience do I need?

The best medical school applicants have a wide portfolio of work experience. The majority of this has become virtual in recent years due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, most medical applicants would have two or three clinical work experiences supplemented with one or two virtual work experiences. 

However, the cancellation of almost all work experiences in recent years has meant that Universities now lean towards evaluating a candidate’s virtual work experiences in lieu of in-person experience. 

We usually recommend three or four virtual work experiences, with experience in both the primary care and secondary care setting. 

The lives of GPs are very different to the lives of hospital clinicians, and the challenges and struggles faced by these subsections of the healthcare service are very different. For example: hospital clinicians battle a heavy on-call and night shift schedule, with most GPs rarely undertaking on-call work. Conversely, GPs face the added pressure of running their practise as a business and meeting the targets and demands set forth by the Care Quality Commission. 

It is worth noting, however, that what matters most is not the quantity of the work experiences but rather their qualities. A single work experience, providing experience in several different specialties, shadowing clinicians in a variety of healthcare settings, creates a much stronger statement than several “weak” experiences where you haven’t been exposed to, or learnt very much.

Your aim, at the end of your personal statement, should be to demonstrate that your portfolio of virtual work experiences has provided you with comprehensive exposure to what it is like to be a doctor. 

The ideal candidate should have work experience that involves shadowing GP and hospital clinicians alike. Their work experience involves watching patient-doctor interactions on the wards, in outpatient clinics and in general practice. They have witnessed several challenges faced by doctors, from running cardiac-arrests to managing a heavy workload, to having difficult conversations with patients and their families. 

So the next question that comes to our mind is, how do I go about obtaining virtual work experience?

Where can I obtain virtual work experience?

Whilst there are a lot of events labelled as virtual work experiences, only few meet the criteria of true virtual work experience. We looked at the personal statements of successful UCAS candidates

Here are five of the best virtual work experiences, in no particular order:

BSMS Virtual Work Experience:

The BSMS virtual work experience is included on this list as it is perhaps the oldest virtual work experience. It was created before the pandemic and designed as a taster for candidates who struggled to obtain in-person work experience. 

This 8-hour experience consists of 8 modules and uses patient case-studies, powerpoint presentations, quizzes and reflective exercises to embody a clinical work-experience. Although the majority of it is not in a clinical setting, it highlights the various key elements of being a doctor and serves as a good introduction to the profession.

Pros: Free, Self-paced, 

Cons: Very little in-patient experience, some modules can seem a little tedious and theoretical. 

Who is it for? Those wanting a good introduction to a medical career and wanting to learn about how medicine is practised in the UK.

ObserveGP Virtual Work Experience

The ObserveGP work experience, hosted by the Royal College of General Practitioners, is perhaps the second most well-known work experience. It is a free interactive platform with 2 hours of interactive videos involving conversations with several healthcare professionals working in general practice. 

The ObserveGP is best known for introducing candidates to the multi-disciplinary team. There are several interactions with nurses, receptions and allied healthcare professionals to help get you acquainted with the wider team involved in primary care. 

The purpose of ObserveGP is not to provide exposure to patient contact or clinical interactions; rather, it focuses on understanding the wider healthcare team and the core attributes needed to work in healthcare. What it lacks in patient contact and clinical interactions, it makes up in virtues and holistic medicine.

We recommend this virtual work experience as a supplement to your other work experiences. Although the lack of patient contact makes reflection difficult, it is a good way of demonstrating enthusiasm for the medical career and highlighting your understanding of primary care. 

Pros: Free, wide exposure to other healthcare professionals 

Cons: Lacking in in-patient experience for those wanting to replicate a clinical work experience, no certificate.

Who is it for? Those wanting to learn about the variety of healthcare professionals involved in delivering primary care.

Doctalk Virtual Work Experience

The Doctalk Virtual Work Experience is perhaps the most comprehensive work experience when it comes to replicating in-patient clinical experience. It is hosted by NHS doctors, a whopping 5-days long and involves spending a day shadowing the following specialties: orthopaedic surgery, cardiology, oncology, general practise and radiology.

Unlike those above, this virtual experience focuses solely on patient interactions. Candidates shadow doctors in ward rounds, outpatient clinics and in the operating theatre, replicating an in-person experience. 

One of the best things about the Doctalk virtual work experience is that each procedure is narrated and each clinical interaction is fully explained. This ensures you fully understand the surgical procedure or the patient interaction in front of you and can start to think like a medical student or doctor. Those of you that have done clinical work experience will understand the frustration of being left to your own vices, and not understanding what exactly is going on. The Doctalk Experience gets past this through their introductory videos, where the surgical anatomy is explained before a procedure, or the main aims of a consultation are discussed before the patient interaction. 

From a personal statement perspective, what is incredibly helpful is the doctors providing their own reflections. As candidates, it is difficult to know whether you have reflected “correctly” or “enough” and by comparing your own reflection to that of the narrator’s, you get a good idea of whether you are on the correct path or not. 

Pros: 5 days of actual shadowing, best work experience for simulating the real day-to-day lives of doctors, reflections from doctors can be used strategically to improve your personal statement, certificate of completion. 

Cons: The Doctalk team charge £22 for their work experience, to help cover the costs of hosting this large amount of material online and provide a smooth user experience. 

Who is it for? Those who want comprehensive exposure to the lives of NHS doctors and an understanding of how doctors make decisions. Those who want to strategically improve their personal statement.

The King’s Fund

The King’s fund is an independent charity which is heavily involved in the funding of the NHS. Although not strictly a virtual work experience, The King’s Fund hosts a free course on FutureLearn which explains the ins and outs of the structure of the NHS and provides a deep dive into how the UK healthcare system works. 

This is a great work experience to add to your portfolio, not as a demonstration of your understanding of the lives of doctors, but rather as a way of demonstrating understanding of how healthcare services are delivered in the UK. 

This work experience is especially useful when it comes to interview season. Medical schools like confirming that their applicants have a thorough understanding of the system they will be practising in, with several having an entire station dedicated to the structure and funding of the NHS! Our advice is to pair this experience with a couple of others that show patient contact, to develop a well-rounded personal statement. 

Pros: Deep understanding of the NHS, helpful for the personal statement and medical interviews

Cons: No patient contact, some chapters are slightly irrelevant to the day-to-day practise of medicine. 

Who is it for? International students, those who want to gain some knowledge on the inner workings of the NHS

NHS SpringPod Virtual Work Experience

The NHS SpringPod Virtual Work Experience is a 10 hour work experience that is open for a 10 day window between April 6-April 16th 2021. Like the Doctalk Virtual Work Experience, it is hosted by NHS professionals, and provides a 10 day experience of medicine. However, rather than focus specifically on medicine, this is more of a general NHS experience with the time split and dedicated to several NHS careers: medicine, nursing, physiotherapy, and other allied health professionals. 

This experience is akin to a careers day fair, where the focus is on meeting healthcare professionals in the NHS and getting a general understanding of working in healthcare, rather than medicine. Although the NHS SpringPod experience does not have patient contact, it does several workshops with doctors, and quizzes and competitions. One thing to note, however, is that the experience is only open to those who have a proven address in London. 

Pros: Wide exposure to several healthcare-related fields, free

Cons: Not specific to medicine, relatively little focus on medicine (with the 10 hours split equally amongst several healthcare professions), certificate of completion

Who is it for? This is an experience we recommend to become introduced to the different members of the healthcare team and the different roles they play in bringing healthcare to patients. 

Now that you know the five best virtual work experiences of 2021, let’s get to how to include them in your personal statement

Which virtual work experiences should I include in my personal statement?

With only 47 lines available and a maximum limit of 4000 characters in your UCAS, every experience that you describe and every word you use in your personal statement is vitally important.

The best personal statements flow seamlessly to tell a unique story. They use a combination of work experience, volunteering and extra-curricular activities to answer the following questions: 

-Why do you want to study medicine?
-What have you done to develop your understanding of this career?
-What makes you a good medical school candidate?

We recommend that you embed three to four work experiences in your personal statement, as you go about answering these questions. What matters most, however, is not the quantity of work experience but the quality. 

The most important element is to include at least one work experience which involves in-patient clinical experience. This shows that you truly understand the medical career, having first-hand insight into the lives of doctors, and are thus making an informed decision on your career choice. Remember, the role of reviewers is to not only pick the best candidates for their medical school, but to also sift through those who do not have enough experience to support their career decision.

So, what should I do now?

The best thing to do is to start early and keep a reflective journal handy to make notes. Complete the BSMS and ObserveGP work experience, to get an introduction to the medical career, and complete the Doctalk Work Experience to get first hand clinical experience.

As you go about these work experiences, jot down what you learnt from each day. Write down how specific scenarios developed your understanding of a medical career, and think about why you think you would make a good doctor. 

For example: shadowing orthopaedic surgeons in the operating theatre may have taught you why doctors need to function as both leaders and team players, a skill you honed whilst captaining a school sport. 

Working with radiologists may have highlighted the importance of attention to detail-a quality you picked up during your extensive hours of sketching. 

Watching cardiologists lead a cardiac arrest may have highlighted the importance of effective communication, an attribute you honed whilst organising the school science fair. 

Being able to examine an event critically, and identify key elements and learning points is, in essence, the process of reflection. We will be releasing a guide on reflection soon. For now, start creating your portfolio of work experience and start learning!