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Top 10 tips: applying for specialty training (part 1)

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Over the next few weeks, FY2s will be making big decisions about career choices and applying for specialty training.

Having changed specialties and been through the application process twice (first applying for Paediatrics and General Practice, then reapplying for General Practice the following year), I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts and advice.

1. Pray; seek God’s guidance

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12

Applying for specialty training can be a stressful and worrying time. Let others know what you’re going through, so that they can pray for you and support you. Pray that you would trust that God has a plan for you, whatever the outcome, and that you would glorify God throughout the whole process.

2. Think carefully about choice of specialty

You may end up doing this for the rest of your life!

Is there something you have always wanted to do? Maybe you feel called to a particular specialty.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What did you enjoy as a medical student? Which jobs have you enjoyed as a Foundation doctor? What do other people say you’re good at?

How many years of training will there be? What about exams? Will this specialty be compatible with your extra-curricular interests, family commitments and your faith?
Talk to the people who know you best – your family, friends, peers and senior members of the team.

Beware of unhelpful “advice” from seniors – even those whom you respect and trust (just because you’re a good junior doctor and can manage post-op orthopaedic patients well, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suited to a career as an Orthopaedic surgeon!)

You might find it helpful to attend a careers event. The BMA puts on a careers fair each year (19-20th October 2012). Some Royal Colleges also put on similar events (the Paediatrics one was excellent.) You may be able to arrange a taster week if you want to find out more about a particular specialty.

Make sure you have a “Plan B”. What if you don’t get a job in your first choice of specialty? Will you reapply in the second round? Apply for a LAT/LAS post? Take a year out?  Would it be worth applying for a second specialty in the first round, so that you have a back-up plan?

3. Think carefully about location

I decided to move away from the Deanery where I did my Foundation jobs, as it covers a massive geographical area and could have left me commuting hundreds of miles, or moving house every 6 months for the next eight years. In doing so, I left behind all of my friends, my church and a place that I had grown to know and love, where I felt part of the community.

Should I stay or should I go? (Ultimately, you may not have much choice in the matter.)

If you move away, where will you find social and spiritual support? Where will you go to church? Where will you live? What do other trainees think about the specialty training in the Deanery you’re applying to? Is it a good idea to change so many things all at once?

Have a look at competition ratios for your chosen specialty in different deaneries. These vary year on year but are worth bearing in mind.

4. Stay ahead of the game

Carefully read through the applicant’s guide, person specification and eligibility criteria for your chosen specialty. Read the information on the appropriate Royal College website. Speak to trainees who applied the year before you. Do your research!

Make a list of all important dates and deadlines.

Let the rest of the team know when you might need to be away for interviews, so that cover can be arranged well in advance.

5. Prepare the things that can be prepared

I turned up nervously for one interview, barely able to string a sentence together and jibbering incoherently! But I had arrived prepared, with all the paperwork I needed, a copy of my CV to hand and a well-presented portfolio. This was a head-start, at least.

You never know how you’ll feel on the day of the interview. Spend time working on the things that you can prepare before the nerves kick in. They’re easy points, so do all you can to score the maximum possible.

Think about what you could do to boost your CV/portfolio to show commitment to the specialty that you’re applying for. Make sure you’ve done an audit, some teaching and at least one presentation. Demonstrate that you’ve been involved in some aspect of Clinical Governance. Maybe you could attend a relevant conference or course. Some specialties look favourably on those who have sat their Part 1 exams before applying.

You may need to provide a copy of your Portfolio. Spend time putting this together, laying it out logically and presenting it well. One idea is to file something under each of the GMC’s seven principles of Good Medical Practice. Make sure the results of Multi-Source Feedback questionnaires are readily available. Ensure that you know the contents of the folder inside out and can point people to the relevant sections, if asked.

If there is an exam as part of the interview process (e.g. for GP), have a look at some practice questions beforehand. Revise some basic medical topics (I found the Oxford Handbook series very helpful).

On to part 2

Posted by Dr Sarah Maidment
CMF Junior Doctors’ Committee – social media rep

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