Words: Olivia Raymond-Hayling

If you are looking to apply to medical school, whether this year or in future years- it is a good idea to get some work experience whilst you are still deciding! Medicine is a tough path- but an amazing one. You want to know what you are in for if you make the choice.

At the best of times, it’s a struggle to get work experience as a school pupil, especially if you are under 18. Nobody expected the recent events- and even pupils who have managed to arrange some work experience will now be unable to attend. However- all is not lost! The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have put together an amazing, FREE resource for those who are thinking about pursuing medicine. I have accessed Observe GP myself, and without giving too much away, I will tell you my thoughts on each part.

How to access Observe GP

To access the course, follow this link and at the bottom of the page there is a button to sign up.

Once you have signed up, you will receive an email with a link to the course, as well as a reflective diary.

The reflective diary

This is a 36-page PDF booklet which is intended to assist you as you work through the course, and for any other formal or informal medical experience you may pursue- whether it is in a care setting, or simply reading up on relevant medical news.

The booklet begins with some tips for applying to medicine. It is then split into three sections to be filled in before, during and after your work experience.

The great thing about this booklet is that it gives you the opportunity to really think about your experience; what you got out of it and how compares to what you expected.

You will be reflecting on your work from the day you start medical school to the day you retire. Any medical school will be very impressed if you show that you take the time to reflect on the things you do.

Introduction and Practice Tour

I thought this part was really worthwhile. It gives you an overview of how a GP practice operates, and then goes through the ‘housekeeping’ of a work experience placement. The most important being confidentiality, which is essential for any experience you may do subsequently, as well as for a medical school interview down the line.

Reception & waiting room

The receptionist first speaks to you and explains the process of attending the GP practice, and how each member of the team handles patient care. You are also given some information and demographics about the practice itself.

The waiting room was a great interactive page. By clicking the patients, it gave a summary of why they were in and their last appointments. This was great as it gives the realistic amount of information a doctor would know before a patient comes in- through information over the phone or past records. It is also an interesting ‘people-watching’ style setup, demonstrating how you can never know what a patient’s history is like based on appearances.

The team meeting

This was an operational team meeting. Everything discussed were issues that were applicable to everyday running of the practice. It was not a meeting where specific cases were discussed, nor was it a multidisciplinary team meeting (MDT). I think this is great for a prospective student’s level.

This agenda was given to you, and then followed with everyone introducing themselves. This was quite realistic- this is how most meetings begin. I did think that the meeting was almost too perfect; by that I mean the staff used simple language, and it was easy to follow for a work experience student. In reality however, staff are time-pressured and the work experience student’s understanding and experience might not be a priority in everything that is said. So in a real work experience scenario, you may have to ask the team to clarify, which can be quite intimidating. In this way, the virtual team meeting is a great insight into a team meeting, removing barriers for your reflection; on the other hand you don’t get the challenge that you would if you were there.

The consultations

There were four consultations in total. They began with the practitioner giving you an overview of things to expect- particularly things that pupils are often taken aback by.

Each consultation was helpfully presented as a side-by-side view of the patient and of the practitioner. This is helpful as you can observe the facial expressions and body language of both people. The 10-minute consultations ended with a de-brief, where you are given an explanation of what they did and why, since observers aren’t involved in the consultation (in reality and virtually). This again was a ‘perfect’ experience- in reality the list may be rushed and in a work experience setting you may have little time to clarify anything you didn’t understand. In this case I think this is an advantage of the virtual work experience.

I also noticed that each patient that was very different to one another- it showed how the approach needs to be tailored for different personalities and their expectations. In terms of their actual presenting worries and symptoms- I think it gave a good range. However, in any medical work experience it is the care which is important; how communication can be used to address a patient’s concerns is what you should focus on, and often ‘treatment’ involves no prescription or follow-up at all. They also had a different person leading each consultation, so that you can compare their approaches.

They did skip showing any physical examinations that were performed. I think this does mean that you only see one side of GP consultations, however when I went on my work experience before applying to medical school, I was often asked to wait outside the curtain, just for comfort of the patient.

In summary - general thoughts

The setup of the course was really well done- I was pleasantly surprised! There were staff speaking to you directly, as if you were there. Everything was simple to understand, as it is aimed for prospective medical students.

I also liked how the video would highlight any terminology mentioned (not scientific words, but general terms like ‘primary care’ or ‘red flag’), which were all available in a glossary on the main menu.

I felt that it was really handing you the reflective opportunities on a plate- it brings up specific questions to ask yourself at points throughout the course. This was great because it is hard to know what to look for sometimes when you are at a school level.

There were also some questions and matching exercises to keep you clued up on the principles demonstrated– this helps to put the theory about medical practice (for example, the four ethical pillars) into a clinical context.

I think the main, obvious downside to a virtual work experience is that, as I have mentioned, you see the ‘ideal world’ GP practice. Each consultation is around 10 minutes, the patients are all quite engaged, there is no worry in the world about the current stresses and difficulties that healthcare systems and individuals face day-to-day. I think work experience is so important as it often makes a lot of people decide against medicine- and of course this is OK! We all want to be treated by a doctor who wants to be there. On a virtual work experience, it is hard to see the downsides, the struggles and the pressure of being a doctor. As well as this, despite the exercises given to you, there is no scope to ask questions to the healthcare staff. I think this is the thing that I would want to supplement if I were completing this resource – perhaps by asking my own GP about their job when I next saw them next.

Overall- I would 101% recommend Observe GP to anyone who is considering applying for medicine. This really is a great resource for prospective medical students. I thought that the reflective booklet was well thought out, designed to exactly what medical schools want to hear about your work experience.