How to apply to the Foundation Programme

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The 'How to apply to the Foundation Programme' gives useful tips on the key points you will need to consider when applying for the Foundation Programme (FP).

Each year thousands of final year medical students apply to the FP. Part of the application is the unenviable task of ranking in preference the 21 units of application (UoAs), one of which will be their home for the next 2 years.

Making up your mind

The metamorphosis from final year medical student to foundation doctor is a difficult one. Going through this transition in a place you are happy is important, and therefore choosing the right UoA is tricky! Although some students will have their mind made up before applications open, many will deliberate and make a last minute decision. Talking to friends, family, colleagues and other medical school alumni may help.

The individual foundation school websites, Foundation Programme online literature and the GMC trainee survey have lots of information on the different UoAs. Visiting the area and hospitals may give you some insight into a place, and some hospitals even host open evenings for this reason. It is vital to think about what is most important for you, perhaps by making a list (ie proximity to family, reputation etc), and tailor your choice accordingly. 

Factors to bear in mind when ranking the UoAs:

  • reputation
  • teaching
  • home
  • competition
  • opportunities
  • family, friends, partner
  • familiarity
  • finances
  • location
  • hobbies

When I applied for FP in the same place I studied some of my friends thought this would be boring... But starting to work and meeting new people has given me a totally different experience within the same city!

Alex, F1

Should I stay?

One of the first things to consider is whether you want to stay in the same area as your medical school or move away. There are some advantages to staying: you know your way around, you will have familiar faces to work with and the computer systems will not feel like the matrix! However some may relish a fresh challenge or want to move away for a change. In 2016, 60% applied to leave the UoA associated with their university.

Fortunately the skills learnt as a medical student are transferable and the shadowing period provides the opportunity to find your feet, and your way around. There are differences in preference across the UK; 68% of Scottish students applied locally in 2016 compared to 21% in London. This may reflect the geography of UoAs but it is worth remembering many people make a decision with friends and some large groups stick together.

It is also worth remembering that the types of jobs you end up with will be ultimately more important for specialty applications than the location. 

Will I get in?

So you’ve made the decision, but then you start to doubt… will I even get in?! In 2016, 78.6% got their first choice and 94.4% got one of their top five, so you've got a good chance and nothing to lose. It is worth scrutinising all of your top choices, not just number one as some UoAs are much more competitive than others. 

In 2016 the most oversubscribed areas were North West Thames, North West Central, Severn, Oxford and West Mids Central. Some students are put off by these stats, as they are frightened of missing out on their top choice and the feeling of failure this may provoke. If you want to go somewhere, even if it is the most competitive deanery and your points are low, you may as well try. You may do well on the situational judgement test and get in, but even if you do not get what you want all is not lost.

Remember there is no disadvantage if you do not get your top choice: you will move down your list of preferences until you are matched to the highest ranked deanery that still has vacancies. For example if you have the same score as someone who ranked the UoA first but it was your sixth choice, you will have equal chance – there is no punishment in applying to a UoA that is competitive and then not getting in. 

Not getting my top choice deanery was difficult at first but moving away from home has made me grow and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tom, F2

If you don't succeed

Being allocated somewhere you didn't rank top is difficult at first, especially when you are working hard to pass medical school finals. Remember this can be something positive: the Foundation Programme is a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and explore a new place (with money for the first time!) It is probably the only time in your career where so many people will be in the same boat (1522 people didn't get their first choice in 2016). You will not be alone: many FY1s live in hospital accommodation to settle in and meet new people and hospital mess groups host welcome socials for new doctors to help too. The foundation years are an exciting and busy time in your career and it is only two years, a great amount of time to experience something new. However things end up, remember that the FP is standardised across the UK and you will find your feet, friends and sense of direction very quickly. Good luck.

Mia Archer, foundation doctor representative for the RCP Student and Foundation Doctor Network.