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Points mean Prizes (and jobs)

Written by Dr Lydia Spurr · Friday 17th January 2014

Thousands of doctors are currently preparing portfolios and stressing about situational judgements as they go into core and specialty training interviews. As a medical student I wasn’t even aware when these interviews were and had only the briefest imaginings of what they might entail. Even at finals, specialty applications felt a million miles away; but it’s as if you’ve only just got through the misery of MTAS and you’re suddenly an F2 realising that the last 15 months have, to your surprise, disappeared.

Yes, the interview is certainly a stressful situation, and for many medics it’s only the second ‘proper’ interview they’ve ever had. Time pressures, the scope of stations and performing under the watchful eye of the great and good of the medical profession only add to the stress. But, there are ways to make this process bearable, and, dare I say it, enjoyable (kind of).

The most important step is preparation. Not just the preparation that starts in the days to weeks before the interview; this should be for refining your skills, getting your answers super-slick and getting to know yourself inside-out. Preparation starts at university (and no, which school you’re in doesn’t make a single difference). What the interviewers are looking for can be found in the person specification unique to each specialty (found at I.e. if you know you were born to perform heart surgery, start looking at what the interviewers for cardiothoracics are looking for. Even if you’re completely confused about your career path, it’s time to start thinking.

Many specialties still have a short-listing stage dependent on the application form. Whether assessed on the form or at interview each specialty will (generally) award points for other/higher degrees, publications, presentations, prizes, teaching experience, audit and ‘commitment to specialty’. At the CT1/ST1 stage it doesn’t matter what subject area you published/presented/taught in etc. to score in that section; but having something relevant will help you discuss your commitment to that specialty. ‘Relevant’ in itself is misleading however; every experience is likely to be relevant when you identify the transferable skills involved and what you learned from the experience. Some specialties are stricter and you’ll need demonstrable evidence that you haven’t just applied on a whim. These tend to be the more competitive specialties which demand evidence you’ve had a really good look at what the job involves and have taken steps to broaden your knowledge.

There is typically also at least one skills station which may be general (e.g. breaking bad news to a patient) or specialty-specific (e.g. interpreting images for radiology) but are still based on applicants demonstrating they fit the person specification. Many of the mark schemes are also freely available on the relevant Royal College website, and I encourage you to have a look and see where you could get a few more points (or give yourself a pat on the back that you couldn’t). It’s unlikely that the mark scheme/person spec. will be exactly the same every year, but the general overview is enduring.

NB. The GP application is a bit different, but that’s for another post.

The take home message is get involved early on, and be involved consistently. It may eat up some of your free time but you’ll appreciate it as soon as you look at the application form. If you’re struggling for practical ideas, take a look at the Royal College and specialty trainee websites for inspiration (some, for example the Royal College of Radiologists, have great audit ideas). The RSM and each medical school have a list of available prize essays and exams. A wise person once said to me “there’s no such thing as a wasted conversation”: Speaking to trainees and consultants about how they got to where they are not only gives you great insight into what they do but being friendly and enthusiastic can open up doors for you to help in audits and publications. And the final tip? Write everything down. Not only will this stand you in good stead as a safe doctor, but you’ll be surprised how much you can forget in a very short time. Then, unlike me, you won’t have to spend ages trying to think of reasonable examples of ‘when I dealt with stress’.

Written by Lydia Spurr, FY3 Doctor
Lydia is a Resident Meducation Blogger