Using Work Experience to get into GP Practice Administration
Posted on 11/09/2016 by Jo Hodge
At TPP Healthcare, we specialise in finding skilled healthcare administration staff for GP and private surgeries, such as receptionists, medical secretaries, administrators and practice managers. We are often approached by young people looking for their first role, but are unable to help them as they do not have the experience required by employers.
This chicken and egg situation is where many entrants into the job market find themselves – employers will only consider candidates with previous experience, but how do you get that experience when no-one will offer you a job?
One of the best ways to get some work experience under your belt is to spend some time in a volunteer position. But what many people don’t realise is that volunteering does not have to be with a charity. For candidates looking to work in healthcare administration, asking for work experience at their local GP surgery is a great way to get their foot on the ladder.
How to find a work experience placement
Most GP surgeries offer work experience or apprenticeships at one point or another, but finding these opportunities can be tricky. Surgeries don’t always create specific work experience posts, so they don’t advertise on job boards or in the press. Instead, you’ll need to contact a GP directly, either in person or in writing, to ask if they’d be willing to consider you for work experience. Set out what you can offer, even if it’s just personality traits like enthusiasm and a willingness to learn, and what you hope to gain from the placement.
It’s best to start with surgeries in your local area, to make your commute as reliable and cost effective as possible. However your own surgery, particularly if you live in a more rural area, may be reluctant to consider you for work experience in case you know some of the patients, which would compromise confidentiality. In this case, you’ll need to look further afield.
You may also need a letter of reference, eg from a teacher at school or previous employer, so make sure you have a professional or academic referee lined up. You may also be asked to come in for an interview or meeting before being offered a voluntary work placement.
How to sell yourself
Although you are offering to work for free, you’ll still need to compete for work experience opportunities; medical and business administration students are also looking for placements in surgeries to build their work experience. You need to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Firstly, make sure you emphasise that you are looking for admin experience, and that you are happy to tackle any tasks. This is much easier for GPs to provide than clinical work or shadowing, where you would sit in on patient consultations, and they are likely to prefer someone who is actively looking for this type of work.
While most surgeries do not need you to have specific qualifications or experience, attitude and personality are very important. All administration staff have some dealings with patients, so surgeries want compassionate, patient and positive people working for them. They’ll also be looking for enthusiasm, reliability and a willingness to get stuck in and take on any task that needs doing.
Of course, if you do have any previous employment or volunteering experience, this is worth bringing up. Surgeries will be particularly interested in customer service experience, whether it’s from working in a shop to volunteering at a care home.
What to expect
When you start your work experience placement, it’s most likely that you’ll be treated as just another member of the reception staff. You’ll probably start off with basic back office duties like filing, scanning and photocopying. If you show promise it’s likely you’ll then move on to shadowing the reception staff, dealing with patients and answering phones.
Work experience placements usually last for a couple of months, and you should stay as long as you possibly can, as one good stint of work experience looks much better on your CV than lots of very short placements.
Get the most from your placement
While a placement will guarantee you some experience, you’ll need to work to get the most out of it. You should aim to gain as many different new skills as you possibly can and try out working in all possible areas of administration, to give you the best possible foundation for finding a paid job.
Showing that you are willing to learn and take on new duties and responsibilities is the best way to give your work experience real depth. Talk to staff about what they do and offer to help. Also take every opportunity to chat to the patients, and work on building your communication skills and empathy.
From a recruitment agency’s point of view, the best possible experience you can gain is in using the surgery’s database software, such as EMIS Web, EMIS LV or Vision. Using these systems requires some training, so you’ll need to stay in one place for a reasonable length of time and show a real willingness to learn for the surgery to do this. But once you’ve got this experience under your belt, it’s much easier to move into a temporary or permanent paid job.
How to turn it into a job
Certainly the easiest way to turn work experience into a paid job is to make yourself so indispensable to your employer that they offer you a role to keep you at the practice. Make sure you ask about any opportunities for temporary work before you leave, even if there are no permanent vacancies at present.
Once you have the experience detailed above under your belt, go and see a reputable recruitment consultancy like TPP Healthcare. We’ll go through your CV, give you advice about how to make the best of your experience and what further skills you might need to gain and put you forward for temporary, contract or permanent roles within GP and private practices. You can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7198 6080.