Maximise Points for Specialty Applications

With the recent removal of additional degrees counting for points towards all specialty applications for 2023 recruitment, it’s now even more important to build one’s portfolio to maximise points for specialty applications. How can you prioritise the easiest to obtain points? How can you do this without being frustrated by the tickbox exercise?

Find something you’re interested in

For the many people I coach through the process, the first thing I always tell them is to consider what they enjoy or are passionate about. Often this can be moulded to earn the points you need. To provide examples, team members of Mind the Bleep have reached out passionate about improving financial literacy, building a referral cheat sheet, radiology, careers or wellbeing resources. Each of them has the ability to be moulded into a large-scale project that ticks many boxes with less work.

Combine projects to maximise return

You could do a single QI project, write a publication about another area, provide teaching on something else & be a leader in a completely different organisation. All of these if completely separate are far more time-consuming. Consider whether you can combine to maximise return.

For example, our cardiology lead is tasked to do a three-month webinar programme. They’re recommended that every few webinars, they can apply QI methodology to improve their programme and other resources they offer and test these interventions across the next few webinars. They then aim to present and/or publish this information. By doing so, they develop their skills in leadership, QI, teaching & presentation/publication by doing a much larger project they’re actually interested in.

Work with others

Working together on a project means you can get a lot more done. For example, working together on projects & abstracts means far less work. Most items attracting points do not ask for you to be the sole person completing a project, but rather that you were substantially involved. At Mind the Bleep, all our specialty leads recruit registrars and consultants to contribute webinars & articles which they then support by ensuring it is pitched appropriately for our junior doctor audience.

Prioritise the easiest to obtain points

Although there are specific self-assessment criteria for each specialty, they broadly fit into similar domains. Even if they don’t directly count towards points in your application, you can still reference them in your interview as “commitment to specialty” so they always help.

Regardless, the fine-tune your priorities make sure you check out the exact self-assessment criteria for the specialties you’re considering – ACCS, Anaesthetics, Radiology, CST, IMT, Obs & Gynae, Ophthalmology, Paediatrics, Cardiothoracics, Psychiatry, Neurosurgery.

1) Tasters & Commitment to Specialty

Top of the list because a taster helps you understand what the specialty involves & is a quick and easy way to get an idea of whether you’ll actually like it. This can be done as part of study leave in F2 and hence doesn’t cost you money or free time (except for sorting it out!). If you’re doing an FY3 then you can choose your locums or clinical fellow job to get experience in the specialty you like.

For commitment to a specialty, it is easy to keep a log of educational activities & cases that made you interested in the specialty you’re choosing. This could include lectures you attended, SLEs, reflections, clinics, and surgical or procedure lists. You’ll find if you really dig deep, there will be a lot of things you’ve done that you didn’t realise fits this section.

2) Teaching & Training in Teaching

Again top of the list, because it is really easy to complete a teaching programme. Top scorers usually need to complete a three-month teaching programme recruiting tutors and collecting formal feedback. With virtual teaching & medical students in abundance, it has become really easy to organise this without much effort across a region or nationally. All you need to do is find an area you’re interested in! If you’re having trouble, join our team and we’ll help you deliver a teaching programme.

As for training in teaching, there are many frankly predatory courses that charge £200+ for training in teaching which award you perhaps one or two more points. These are simply not worth it. Instead, reach out to the university affiliated with your hospital – personally, as a result, I was able to get a free PgCert in Medical Education. You could also try BMJ Learning “Medical Education” modules, this course with the University of Michigan & this course with OpenUniversity. Some doctors on Reddit say they have successfully used the latter two to claim for more than 5 days of teaching.

3) Quality Improvement Projects

This is high up because it often counts towards a lot of points. Often, they need to be themed to the specialty for which you’re applying (particularly surgery). Our recommendation is to always apply QI methodology to a project that you’re already doing. The easiest way to do this is to find something that annoys you about where you work (e.g. x always goes wrong or is delayed) & survey people before and after with the aim to find interventions that can fix this and then check whether your intervention works and results in sustained improvement.

If your idea is themed to educate or improve the working lives of junior doctors, reach out to us as we’re very interested in supporting you to deliver it nationally!

4) Presentations

Junior doctors often get worried about getting a national oral or poster presentation, but these days there are so many conferences that it is difficult not to get your projects submitted somewhere and accepted eventually. I’ve placed this fourth in the list as by working through these sequentially you’ll have a teaching programme or QI project you can submit for this! At Mind the Bleep, all of our team members continuously apply until they’re able to get a presentation and/or national prize.

I highly recommend using Canva to design your posters or presentations as it makes them look really professional. I think it’s definitely one of the biggest contributors to the prizes I’ve won! The free version is more than enough for most people unless you love designing cool graphics and posters like me!

5) Leadership

This is later down because it is quite difficult to obtain (particularly regional or national leadership roles). It also typically requires at least 6 months of regular commitment outside of working hours to prove you’ve made a positive impact. Consider joining a society that you’re interested in, speaking to the medical education department or your supervisor about any available roles & consider joining the BMA and becoming an LNC representative (this is the local/regional committee for each hospital trust that negotiates better working conditions). We also set up Mind the Bleep with multiple leadership positions to help people with this too.

6) Courses

It was difficult to know whether to place this higher. The problem is these courses are very expensive and you often need to fork out your own money first which may or may not be reimbursed as well as significant travel costs. Try to book this well in advance such that you have time to complete all the paperwork to get it reimbursed, you have time to save money towards it, you’re able to get it in a location that’s easier for you and finally so you can organise study leave without having to swap or work awful hours! MedCourse allows you to search for available UK courses.

7) Exams

By this, I mean doing things like MRCS Part A or MRCP Part 1. This is low down on the list as these are expensive exams and they usually count little and require a lot of work – much more when you’re not being regularly exposed to the topics you’re studying. For these reasons, this should be low on your priority list.

8) Additional Achievements

Low on the list as often this includes distinctions or merits during medical school which you no longer can do anything about. This also contains being awarded a national prize and this is simply a number game. If you apply with enough abstracts to enough conferences you will eventually win a prize for something – but it often requires various different projects and various different abstracts which are all very time-consuming and often with little reward. Hopefully, you’ll win a prize for the presentations that you submit making it less work. My biggest tip is to try to apply for not well-known prizes or many prizes that require minimal obscure work e.g. an abstract about something slightly bizarre that will put people off from applying.

9) Publications

This is really hard to do and often requires a substantial amount of work. There are two main methods people use & I find them both deeply uncomfortable. The first is to latch onto a consultant or registrar who is submitting something & helping out. The issue is that often the junior doctor ends up doing most of the work but being after a long list of authors. Alternatively, many “pay to win” by submitting to a journal that’ll accept anything as long as you pay their ridiculous publication fees.

The easiest way to achieve at least something in this domain are reviews, case reports & editorials. Whilst they aren’t worth as much as original research, they are far easier to do. If you’re keen on an original research publication, my top tip would be to find a supervisor with a good track record in an area that you find interesting enough that you’ll be able to commit for as long as it takes.

10) Postgraduate Degrees

This is associated with a huge cost & long commitment and so I’d recommend avoiding these!

Conclusion & Resources

I hope you found this guide helpful, but I welcome any questions or if anyone has any top tips or resources to include!

Written by Dr Akash Doshi (ST4 in Endocrinology & Diabetes / Founder of Mind the Bleep)

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