How to ensure you are eligible for the job you want
When you apply for any post in surgery, at both the application form and selection centre/interview stage, you will be asked to demonstrate that you have achieved certain competencies. These will include specialty specific knowledge and skills but also more general career-based skills. This section will consider what these skills are and how you can acquire them.
Lists of clinical competencies can be found a on numerous websites. If you are applying for a post early in your career at a level similar to the core training years, you need to demonstrate that you have achieved the foundation year 2 competencies. These are listed on the foundation programme website.
When applying for posts, you will need to demonstrate that you have completed the competencies for the level below that to which you are applying. You will find core competencies outlined on the ISCP website.
In addition to specialty-specific clinical or technical skills and knowledge, you will require skills such as communication, leadership and team involvement, judgement under pressure, decision making and problem solving as well a general professional integrity. For more details on these see do I want to be a surgeon.
You will acquire such competencies from a wide range of activities that you undertake, both those that you undertake specifically to improve your career portfolio and those that are an intrinsic part of your working (and private) life. You should try to think imaginatively about situations in which you achieve competencies and should not limit your thinking solely to work situations.
Things you can do to gain experience and improve your portfolio include:
- attend courses
- attend conferences, seminars, etc
- make presentations at conferences, seminars, etc
- join or organise a journal club
- join and participate in relevant associations
- undertake self-directed learning
- teach and/or demonstrate (anatomy demonstration posts are
- particularly useful)
- write letters, articles, reports, etc for publication
- audit projects
- work in alternative environments, eg electives at medical school
- join and participate in your medical school surgical society
- choose surgically-focused options at medical school
During your foundation programme and core training you will also have access to study leave to allow you to develop this competencies and specific skills. Some of this time will involve taught sessions through the Foundation School and Schools of Surgery. At foundation level this equates to a minimum of 3 hours a week but may be aggregated to 7 whole days depending on your location. At Core Training and above the specific time available depends on your individual location.
It can be difficult to work out how you can gain these experiences but with a little research and effort you will be able to undertake most of these. You can gain teaching experience in formal posts but these can be difficult to obtain and to fit into the rest of your career. You can also gain teaching experience by volunteering to teach practical skills, such as teaching at your university surgical society. Alternatively, you can organise events for local school pupils, telling them about careers in medicine and teaching them practical skills that will help with their applications to medical school.
You will be able to gain a lot of additional experience by talking to senior colleagues. You may be allowed to observe or assist in theatre, to undertake audit or research projects or just to sit in on clinics. As long as you are willing to commit to whatever project they help you with and do not expect them to supervise you too closely, most consultants and other more senior staff will be happy to help you. However, they cannot help you if you don’t ask (but don’t pester them if they say no!).
The advent of MMC has meant that formal research in the form of a higher degree or postgraduate project is no longer a requirement for entry to ST3 but many candidates choose to undertake some between Core Training and ST3. Alternatively you may wish to undertake some research as an Out Of Programme experience once you are in ST3.
There are many associations, networks and organisations you can join or become involved with. Whichever of the activities outlined above you decide to undertake, make sure you keep your records up to date and keep correspondence, certificates, confirmation of attendance, etc. If you don’t record activities as you do them, you will find it very hard to compile your portfolio and write your application forms. If you have worked with a clinician outside the normal teaching programme, ask for a letter of support.