Want to be a doctor? Here’s our top 10 tips for medical work experience

Many of our students taking A Levels in Biology and Chemistry at City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College have ambitions to work as doctors or in medicine.

According to the British Medical Association (BMA), work placements are an essential step to securing a place at any UK medical school with institutions looking for students with a range of healthcare experience.

Here’s our top 10 tips on how to gain work placements and make the most of the experience:

  1. You can get placements in a range of healthcare settings from GP practices to hospitals and even internationally. Bear in mind a lot of people will be looking to gain similar experience, so apply early for as many opportunities as possible to make sure you get a good placement.
  2. Get in touch with GP practice managers and explain who you are and ask them about placements and how they can help you gain experience. If you can’t shadow a doctor, look to other healthcare professionals, such as pharmacists and physiotherapists.
  3. Make the most of your contacts, such as relatives, friends and neighbours, who work in hospitals or other parts of the healthcare sector.
  4. Speak to your teachers and careers advisers who can help you find placements. At CCCG, we work with dozens of employers in healthcare to provide opportunities for our students to gain experience and learn from those working in the sector, as well as support with UCAS applications.
  5. Look at opportunities for experience at medical schools like Brighton and Sussex Medical School, which offers a six-week virtual work experience programme. While not designed to completely replace in-person placements in the real world, this course gives an insight into medicine and being a doctor. The course introduces students to the NHS and different medical roles including the key skills needed to work in those areas and challenges they face.
  6. The BMA does not encourage healthcare professionals to charge students for placements, although there may be instances where you could be asked to cover costs such as administration. Don’t be afraid to ask if there are any costs you need to pay.
  7. Dress smartly when on your placement, explain what you would like to gain from the experience and what you would like to learn while you are there. Ask questions with enthusiasm to a diverse mix of staff to give you a great insight into healthcare.
  8. Talk politely to patients and remember that confidentiality is important and under no circumstances discuss their issues outside the organisation where you are on placement. Don’t take it personally if a patient wishes to be seen without a student present.
  9. Keep a diary of what you did and saw each day, which can help solidify what you learn and be an important reference tool when you come to writing your UCAS personal statement and preparing for medical school interviews.
  10. Finally, here’s a list of other organisations that can help with finding work placements:

Apply now for A Levels at City and Islington College here and Westminster Kingsway College here.

Nurse declares CANDI’s healthcare diploma as ‘one of the best’

Angela Karuri never considered nursing as a career as a young girl.

She recalled in her late teens seeing how hard her mum worked in private healthcare and thinking “I can’t do that,” and never imagined herself in a nursing career.

A decade later Angela is about to start an MSc Specialist Community Public Health Nursing after more than two years as a Registered Nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

Her master’s at City University was arranged through Tower Hamlets GP Care Group and will lead to a job as a Specialist School Nurse, while her wider plan is to work in public health policy.

Angela, 28, who lives in Tilbury, Essex, was forced to rethink her future after struggling in in her A Levels, after becoming unwell due to a chronic condition while her mum was also ill.

Back then she was more interested in sports science, which led to her enrolling on a Health and Social Care Level 3 Diploma at City and Islington College (CANDI) and gaining a Distinction.

After her diploma Angela went on to the University of Central Lancashire to study a BSc (Hons) Nutrition and Exercise Sciences where she graduated with first class honours.

“The course at CANDI is definitely one of the best out there,” said Angela.

“It gave me my confidence back after it had been knocked with A Levels. It was a chance for me to regroup and start with a clean slate. Right from the beginning I put my all into it,” said Angela.

“I had a fantastic tutor. He knew most of us were looking to go to university and would make sure we learnt how to research and set out references in our coursework. That set the tone for my degree and further learning.”

A year after graduation, Angela landed a job as an Outpatient Clerk at for Barts Health NHS Trust, which turned out to be a pivotal moment in her career.

She said: “I started to enjoy working with patients and making sure they felt safe and being that friendly face to talk to. I really liked that aspect of it. I was also looking after the children at my church’s Sunday school and thought I could combine this with nursing. It just clicked.”

Angela enrolled on a Postgraduate Diploma in Paediatric Nursing with London South Bank University in 2018 and two years later she began her career as a nurse at GOSH.

GOSH is one of the world’s leading paediatric hospitals, treating more than 69,000 children from the UK and overseas each year who are mostly referred by other hospitals for specialist care.

“Nursing gives me real sense of fulfilment and a joy. I get a lot of peace and satisfaction making sure the children are safe and well. Knowing I’ve helped them and they’re okay is the best part of the job,” said Angela.

Angela admitted it is hard not to get too attached to the children, particularly those who are terminally ill or in long-term care, when supporting them and their families.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s kids are very resilient. Most of the time they don’t really focus on their illness. They know that they are unwell, but they seem able to just switch off sometimes and just want to get to know you and play with you,” she said.

“On the ward I worked on, we had a lot of high dependency patients who were very unwell, but when you see them overcome surgery or recover from their illness and come out the other end, or they come back a few months later to say hi, it’s a lovely feeling.”

Angela explained that all hospital staff caring for a particular child would meet to share their feelings and support each other through difficult times including bereavement.

She said: “Initially, I tried not to get too close as a way of isolating myself from those situations. As you get more comfortable in your nursing career, you do tend to start forming relationships with these children and their parents, and when things don’t go well your team really matters.”

Angela felt most pressurised in her job during the COVID pandemic and coped with the stress by switching off after her shift, not worrying about less urgent jobs and making sure they had a life outside of work.

“There will be times when you feel the strain. Always remember the reason you decided to get into nursing in the first place. More often than not it is because you want to help people. As long as you keep that in mind, the rest will fall into place,” she said.

Angela listed kindness, staying calm under pressure, good time management and organisation, being able to delegate, teamwork, flexibility and resilience as the skills and attributes needed to be a nurse.

She admitted in retrospect she would have done a nursing degree after her Health and Social Care diploma at CANDI but has no regrets on taking a slightly longer route into her career.

“Obviously, my mind wasn’t on nursing then and I had my little detour, but it’s a good course that gives you a great foundation in healthcare and other things you might not necessarily think of, like public health policy, which you will get assignments on if you study nursing,” she said.

So, how would the young Angela react to her being a nurse?

“She would definitely be shocked. If I could have spoken to her then, I would tell her to approach things with more of an open mind and a little less fear. Back then I swore to myself I would never work in a hospital, but look at me now.”

Find out more about Health and Social Care courses and apply here.

Mum overcomes COVID and family loss to achieve healthcare apprenticeship

Mariana Ghertan caught COVID twice and tragically lost her mother and grandfather during her Healthcare apprenticeship. Here she shares how with the support of her tutor and family she successfully completed her training is now looking to fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse.

Juggling two jobs, one as a cleaner and another as a receptionist, as well as being a mother of two boys meant that life was busy for Mariana Ghertan.

Deep down she had always loved looking after people and had a passion to build a career that involved helping others. When her husband encouraged her to follow her dreams and do a healthcare apprenticeship, she was initially sceptical.

“I’m from Romania and hadn’t completed any further education after finishing school,” said Mariana, 36, who lives with her family in Enfield.

“I moved to the UK 17 years ago, and as English isn’t my first language I was worried that would impact my ability to do a course or apprenticeship. I was scared of change but my husband pushed me to follow my dreams and encouraged me to go for it.”

Mariana enrolled on a Healthcare Support Worker Level 3 Apprenticeship at North Middlesex University Hospital with Capital City College Training (CCCT) in March 2020 having gained her Level 2 while working at Person Centred Day Opportunities in Enfield.

Apprenticeships are paid jobs that are available to all ages and involve four days at work and one day of study towards a recognised qualification, which Mariana undertook at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL).

“I started just before lockdown and so I only had a couple of days of study at CONEL before it changed to home study, and on the other days I was working in the hospital caring for people, which I loved,” she said.

However, Mariana faced significant setbacks during her apprenticeship including contracting COVID twice and losing her grandfather who had brought her up with her mother in Romania.

“The first time I had COVID was over the Christmas period before the vaccinations. My grandad also died of old age while I was recovering and my husband lost a cousin due to COVID, and we were unable to attend their funerals because of lockdown,” she said.

“My breathing was very bad and my family were all very worried. I shut myself away in the bedroom in order to protect my husband and sons. It was an extremely difficult time, which resulted in me taking four weeks off my studies.”

Mariana caught COVID again nearly a year later, which resulted in her missing another three weeks. And on top of that her mother was tragically killed in a car crash aged just 59.

‘I received the phone call to tell me about my mum just before my exams. I was completely broken and told my tutor that I was going to quit the course and leave work,” said Mariana.

“However, my tutor was the most incredible support. She encouraged me not to give up and offered me more time. I spoke to my husband and sons who had seen how much hard work I had put in. They said that my mum was proud of me and would have wanted me to finish, so I did.

“Working in a hospital would not have been possible for me without an apprenticeship. If it wasn’t for the amazing support of my tutor, my husband and my sons, I would never have stuck at it.”

Mariana took some time off after completing her apprenticeship to help with family arrangements back in Romania and now hopes to train to become a nurse.

‘My Level 3 qualification has provided me with enough UCAS points to do nursing,” she said.

“I feel very fortunate to have been given the support to follow my dreams.”

Mariana’s achievements earned her an Excellence Award from Capital City College Group (CCCG), which includes CCCT and CONEL along with City and Islington College and Westminster Kingsway College.

According to the Health Foundation, 314,000 more full-time equivalent NHS staff will be needed over and above existing vacancies in England by 2030/31.

Find out more about our Healthcare and Social Care apprenticeships here.

Unique Culinary Medicine Programme aims to Transform the Nation’s Health

Westminster Kingsway College is at the heart of an ambitious partnership between the culinary industry and healthcare professionals, that seeks to transform the health of thousands of people every year – and which officially launched on Wednesday 26 February, at a star-studded event held at the college’s Victoria Centre.

A host of culinary and clinical luminaries, including Chef Albert Roux OBE; restaurateur, chef and broadcaster Prue Leith CBE; Dr Sophie Park from UCL Medical School; and the crossbench Peer, Lord Bilimoria, came to the college’s Victoria campus – home to its highly-regarded School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts – to celebrate the success of the programme so far and to urge others to adopt it.

The programme, called Culinary Medicine, is a unique partnership between Culinary Medicine UK (a non-profit organisation) and Westminster Kingsway College. The programme teaches doctors and medical students the foundations of nutrition in the context of a patient’s case history, as well as how to cook. By educating medical professionals in this way, clinicians gain a much greater understanding of the vital role that nutrition plays in general health, as well as enabling them to speak to their patients about changes they can make to their diet based on their medical condition – be that obesity, gut health, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.

The programme has been running for the past two years and following a small scale pilot with Bristol University students, has trained over 400 medical students of the UCL Medical School in London. According to Dr Sophie Park (Director of Medical Education at UCL Medical School), the programme is hugely useful. The students, in the 5th year of their studies, have overwhelmingly enjoyed and valued the course, and Culinary Medicine UK hope to get more teaching hospitals and universities on board in the near future.

Westminster Kingsway College provides vital culinary expertise to the programme, as well as the top-quality kitchen facilities that are essential to provide meaningful training to the course’s participants. WestKing Chef Lecturer Vince Kelly tutors the course’s students – many of whom have no previous cooking or nutrition experience – in cooking skills and works with a dietitian and nutritionist on modules covering weight management and portion control, protein and veg diets, and fats.

Gary Hunter, Deputy Principal of Westminster Kingsway College said: “We are delighted to have been the first UK Culinary Medicine Academy and work with the Culinary Medicine programme for the last two years. It has been an inspiration to work with Dr Rupy Aujla and his team to deliver such a unique programme of education and inspiration to the next generation of GPs, Doctors and Chefs. We look forward to continuing this unique partnership, so that the programme can expand and benefit thousands more people across the country.”

The college’s involvement in the programme began when Professor David Foskett – the internationally-renowned hospitality educator and author – connected the college with Dr Rupy Aujla – an NHS GP and the founder of Culinary Medicine UK.  Dr Rupy, who has long been an advocate of better nutrition and its impact on health, had been working with Dr Timothy Harlan and the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans whose Culinary Medicine programme started in 2012.

As Dr Rupy explained: “The UK has been exceptionally slow to adopt this idea. So I decided to use some of the materials from the USA and bring it to the UK and introduce it into a programme with the help of Gary Hunter from the college and Professor Foskett. The programme brings different disciplines together, such as professional chefs, dietitians, and registered nutritionists, and when you get this incredible mixture of specialists, incredible things can happen. I really hope to see Culinary Medicine becoming the standard across all medical schools.”

Elaine Macaninch, a Registered Clinical Dietitian, works for both the NHS (with women who have diabetes in pregnancy) and for Culinary Medicine UK as their Lead Dietitian and Educator. She explained “As health professionals we have an enormous influence over the health of our nation, but research is telling us that, within everyday practice, there are hardly any conversations about food.  That’s a real missed opportunity. For example, diabetes, blood pressure, gut health and general health, there’s so much opportunity for good nutrition to support people’s health and for doctors to have the confidence to have conversations about food with their patients in a way that is sensitive to their background, their culture and their medical condition.

Also at the launch event was the chef, restaurateur and Great British Bake-Off judge Prue Leith. She has followed the Culinary Medicine programme since its launch, is a great advocate of it and has recently been tasked by the Government with overhauling hospital food.  She was very dismissive of the current food offer in many hospitals (where she feels that food is just seen as a drain on budgets, rather a vital input for patients that must be invested in) and wants them to place a much greater priority on the provision of high-quality, delicious and nutritious food, that “really lifts patients’ spirits”.

Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, is the founder of Cobra Beer and a crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, Lord Bilimoria is also the Patron of Culinary Medicine UK and has been instrumental in raising awareness of the programme among Government departments, as well as securing vital funding for the programme, including from Charles Wilson, the CEO of Tesco’s Booker business. Celebrating the partnerships that have enabled the programme to prosper, he said: “This programme would not be happening without the collaboration between the college, academics, doctors, dietitians, nutritionists – all of us making it happen. This great initiative is going to save lives and make us a healthier country.”

To find out more about the Culinary Medicine Programme, visit the Culinary Medicine UK website.