Medical students are a competitive bunch and nowhere is this most obvious than when it comes to job applications.
This article is for those of you who wish to bulk up your CV for your Foundation & Specialty applications whilst still in medical school. It’s important to remember that both Foundation and Specialty applications have set criteria of what gets a mark and what doesn’t - you can’t just waffle. If you want to get the most out of your application, make sure you read up on Foundation applications or your respective Specialty. Links to the most up to date Foundation & Specialty Application guidance can be found at the end of this article. It should be noted that the specific requirements may change every year although the overall idea remains, so it is a good idea to keep yourself updated.
It is also important to note that unless you apply for the Academic Foundation Programme, the Foundation Programme application form offers points for limited areas, primarily extra degrees and publications. But don’t worry - the points that are covered in this article will give you a boost when you later apply for Specialty Posts, Locum Jobs and indeed any other job or volunteering role you may become interested in in the future.
1. Poster Presentations
Poster Presentations can be divided into: Quality Improvement Projects (QIP) & Research.
a) Quality Improvement Projects
Quality Improvement is all about making improvements in healthcare which ultimately lead to safer and more effective patient care. Audits can be thought of as QIPs (depending on their method).
A QIP is the best way to get a poster presentation. All doctors are expected to undertake a QIP on a regular basis, and this is often the bane of a junior doctors’ life. They may welcome a medical students’ helping hand!
There are two ways to get started. Firstly, you could think about setting up your own QIP. This will make it easier to later present at a conference or meeting as it will be your own project and will sound better when you discuss it in job interviews.
The best place to start is with a clinical placement. While you are shadowing a team keep your eyes out for things that can be improved. Remember - you are aiming to make a small change. What is it that slows down the job of the junior doctors? Is there something that you find is unnecessary when it comes to patient care and can be easily broken down into simpler steps?
Here are some examples: - Are there delays in patients receiving antibiotics? - Are there problems around VTE assessments not being completed? - Are Warfarins not prescribed in time, leaving it to the on-call doctor?
If you can’t find anything on your placement you could decide to compare how well your team meets best practice e.g. NICE Guidelines, Royal College Guidelines etc. Some examples:
- NICE Guidelines state patients with CKD should be treated for hypertension with systolic >140. Is this happening on your ward?
- NICE Guidelines state that patients admitted with an exacerbation of COPD without complaining of purulent sputum should not be prescribed antibiotics unless there are either clinical signs of pneumonia or consolidation on an X-Ray. Is your team overzealous in its use of antibiotics?
Once you have found a topic, speak to your placement supervisor. They should be able to guide you so that you can turn your idea into a simple QIP. You should discuss what your aim is (are you expecting a decrease in the number of times the on-call junior doctor is asked to prescribe warfarin, for example), how you will measure this and what you will be expected to do. Once your QIP is completed, your supervisor will also be able to advise you on how you can change your QIP into a poster.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to join a ready-made QIP, the best person to ask would be the junior doctor on your team. As they are required to undertake a QIP during the year, they will probably already be working on one or desperate to start. Agree on the project, its aims and your role. You can then also work together to create a poster at the end.
There are a number of places you can present QIP Posters: - Local conferences; often the foundation deanery will have poster presentations of local junior doctors works’ and may accept medical students as well.
- Conferences in certain specialities. For example, if you did a QIP during a Psychiatry placement on Eating Disorders, you could present this at the annual Eating Disorders Conference run by the Royal College of Psychiatry.
- Locally to the hospital Finally, the hospital department will allow you to present your findings to the staff. This can be at an MDT or at Grand Rounds.
Research can be more difficult to get a poster presentation in compared to QIPs. Research can take a long time and often requires expertise; do not expect an automatic poster at the end of it. You will most likely need to join another person’s research project rather than start your own. Some places to get started:
- Speak to your personal tutor if they are a clinician or a scientist (if you are interested in basic/translational research). They may have good contacts to help you get started.
- Speak to the consultant on your clinical placement. If they are involved in academia themselves, they will be able to point you in the right direction. If they aren’t, they will probably know someone who does.
- If there is a certain specialty you want to be involved in, you can look at current research going on in your university, find some contact details on the website and send an email. You will likely need to email a number of people before getting a response, as some emails may go unanswered.
Publications seem to be a big deal when it comes to applications and the one thing that medical students obsess over. There are a number of ways you can get published as a student.
This is the most difficult method. As with poster presentations, you will likely have to join another team to get involved in research and even then, it is not guaranteed that the research will be published, or if it is, that your name will be on the publication.
The best way of getting research published is to intercalate. This will give you the time and expertise needed to publish research and you will be guided by a supervisor who will have strong knowledge in this area. The same tips for getting involved in research for poster presentations applies for publications.
It should be noted that work can take years to be published, so keep your expectations realistic and work on these early if possible.
- Elective Report
Much easier than publishing research, some journals offer to publish elective reports. If you did your elective in a set specialty (such as Psychiatry), you can look up journals within that area and find journals that have published old elective reports. Make sure you have a read of what is expected from elective reports by that journal before submitting anything. A good example would be ‘Global Echoes’ in the British Journal of International Psychiatry:
- Letter to the Editor
This is the easiest way to get published if you’re only looking for extra points (as opposed to something to talk about in an interview for example). Most journals publish a set number of letters written to the journal in response to a certain article. Often these published letters will offer a certain perspective or insight into the article in question.
Examples of letters you could write include: - Your experience of that specialty as a medical student - Your perspective of the topic in question as a medical student (journals in Medical Education are good for this)
Examples of letters can be found at the end.
Teaching is an integral part of being a doctor and one that medical students often forget when they think of their CV. Teaching is expected from doctors at all levels and can begin in medical school.
As a medical student the main opportunity will come through teaching students in years below you. This can take the form of teaching a certain topic e.g. How to Interpret ECGs or exam-focused e.g. How to Pass OSCEs. There are a number of ways you can organise this.
- Medical Student Society/Teaching Society
Your medical school may already have a teaching programme organised which medical students can become involved with. If it doesn’t, it should at least have a Medical Student Society. Getting in touch with them first is the best way to start organising a teaching programme. You will have more support to organise things like numbers and locations, and the Society will also have good contacts with medical students in all years, making it easier to raise awareness of the teaching programme
- Teaching on Placement
Every clinical placement will have an Undergraduate/Postgraduate Department which will be responsible for the medical students there and their teaching. Some places may have weekly teaching sessions. A good opportunity is to speak to someone at this Department and mention your interest in offering a teaching session to medical students in the years below you. It’s best to choose a topic that’s clinically appropriate to the placement. The group you will be teaching is likely to be small and informal which can also help to calm any nerves.
Finally, make sure you have evidence of any teaching you have undertaken for your future portfolio and interviews. If you’re involved in teaching with a society in medical school you can ask them to give you a certificate as evidence. If you’re teaching on placement, feedback forms are often the best method (albeit tedious).
Do note that in some cases eg. applying for Core Surgical Training, organising a course or having extensive formal training in teaching methodology gives you a higher score than simply delivering teaching, so do take that opportunity if possible.
4. Experience in a Specialty
As you move towards specialty applications many specialties will ask for evidence of interest in the specialty and commitment. If you know what specialty or area you want to go into, medical school is be a good place to get started. Below are some examples of how you can become involved.
Some medical schools will have a society for the specialty of your interest. This is the best way to become involved, as they will have contacts, hold regular events and give you insight to conferences and other opportunities. If there isn’t a society and you have enough interest, why not create one yourself?
- Student Selected Components/Electives
Every medical school will have a student selected component or something similar i.e. a period of time where medical students can create their own projects and explore any area of medicine. You can use this opportunity to do a QIP in a certain specialty and gain some clinical experience at the same time. You can also make contacts, learn more about the application process and get ideas of how you can further your career.
If you are struggling to find someone in your set specialty, the best place to seek help is your medical school. They will often have contacts in each specialty, often clinicians who have taken on students before and are therefore are willing to engage. Another method is to email clinicians directly, although it may be easier to phone their secretary to check if it’s likely they’ll have any availability to supervise you.
As you gain these experiences make sure you have a way of talking about them later in your interview and applications. For practical specialties like surgery, there are online logbooks where students and clinicians can log procedures they have practiced or helped, as well as hours spent in theatre. These can be particularly useful when it comes to interviews.
Reflecting on these experiences can also be helpful, not only for interviews when you are asked about what you learnt but also for yourself. Reflection will help you to understand what it is you want from this specialty and how you can go about doing it.
5. Leadership & Management
No matter what your level as a doctor you will be involved in leadership & management. Starting early and developing these skills at medical school can give you a boost both in your application and in the clinical sphere.
The main opportunity provided by medical schools is university societies. If there’s a particular society you’re passionate about - it doesn’t have to be related to medicine - why not consider applying to the Committee and making some changes? It will give you the opportunity to see how much is involved behind the scenes, the skills required to deal with multiple stresses as well as dealing with stakeholders, other committee members and yourself. Being part of a committee can also allow you to expand the society, creating new links with charities (for example) or introducing new events - all things to boast about later.
Another opportunity specific to medicine is becoming involved in the BMA. The BMA look for student reps from each medical school and this is a great way to become involved in policies and view things from a higher level. It is also something that you can continue doing while you are a junior doctor and feel like you are making some change.
Now, to conclude, here are some useful links - all the best!
Foundation Application Process
Foundation Application Handbook 2018
Person Specifications for Core & Specialty Training
Quality Improvement Resources
BMJ Open Quality
Royal College of Emergency Medicine QI Resources
Letters to Journals
Surgical eLogBook - open to medical students
Royal College of Surgeons - How to use the Surgical Logbook
Surgical Portfolio Building for Medical Students and Doctors
By Dr Gunjan Sharma