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Thinking of taking an F3 year? Advice on specialty interests

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Advice from the Student and Foundation Doctor Network about making the most of an F3 year, if you decide to take one.

Key points: 

  • Exploring and gaining experience in a specialty is a common reason for taking an F3.
  • It’s often a great way to gain contacts, exposure and a chance to do research, quality improvement and audit in an area of interest.
  • The outcome of your time matters more than where you do it, and make sure to record and evidence everything you can.

Fellowships

There are numerous junior clinical fellow positions advertised per year in a plethora of specialties, and sometimes subspecialties. This can provide you with the opportunity to investigate and gain experience in a specialty you are interested in but have had little exposure or experience working in. This can help reduce the possibility of you realising that the specialty does not suit you when further into a training programme. It also gives you the ability to gain experience and get involved in projects, skills development, and shape your portfolio while not needing to expend as much time and effort evidencing training competencies.

You can also choose to work in a specialty that you are not considering in terms of career choice, but that may interact closely with the specialty you hope to enter. Think about what duration you want to continue the fellowship for – do you want this to be your primary focus in a year out of training, or do you want time to be able to focus on other aspects of development?
 

Shadowing

Alternatively, arrange workplace shadowing experience in specialties you are considering as potential career options during your time out of training. Depending on your other commitments, you have greater flexibility to arrange exposure to a number of different specialties. This could help you become more confident in the specialty you decide to apply for. Shadowing also provides evidence of interest in an area and is likely to provide you with opportunities for undertaking projects. A good starting point in enquiring about shadowing opportunities is in the trust you are completing your foundation training in and discussing potential opportunities with your education supervisor.

Conferences

You may find yourself with more income than you would during training if undertaking locuming. Depending on your local postgraduate training area, your F3 year can be the opportunity to have the flexibility in designing your own schedule, along with the funds, that allows you to attend full specialty-specific conferences such as the RCP ‘Medicine’ conference. These conferences can provide you with a real sense of what the specialty is, the potential diversity, career paths and what life is like as a trainee or fully qualified clinician in that specialty. If you don’t have a project to present, it may well be that attending the conference will provide you with many ideas and the projects borne out of this can be presented at a later date.

Formal qualifications

There are a number of different qualifications available covering specific areas of medicine. For example, tropical medicine and international health diplomas, sports and exercise medicine, simulation medicine, human factors / patient safety, clinical anatomy, or programmes less directly affiliated to medical practice such as health economics or business qualifications. These can help to broaden your skillset, develop enhanced generic qualities and gain knowledge regarding specific areas.

Developing a specialist skill

You could also use your self-directed time to focus on developing a specific skill or skills. Ask yourself and relevant seniors whether this would be easier in a training programme where you may be regularly exposed to important presentations and pathology or whether having more flexible time outside of a training programme would be more helpful. Examples of skills include: ultrasound, eg echo or thoracic; surgical skills courses; wilderness medicine qualifications; and so on.

Commitment to specialty

If you’re planning on using time during your F3 year to demonstrate commitment to a specialty for future training applications, make sure you look into what the selection process for that training pathway may give you credit for. This can help bring focus to your planning. The best way to ascertain what experiences are given credit is to review the most up-to-date person specification and self-assessment criteria for the training programme you are aiming for. These experiences may not neatly fall under a ‘commitment to specialty’ but may span multiple scoring domains, such as courses, presentations, experience, clinical academia and so on.

The way in which commitment to specialty is assessed over and above the person specification and self-assessment criteria during the training programme selection process varies by programme. Some specialty programme selection processes have a ‘portfolio’ section of the selection centre or interview. This time allows the interviewers to review the evidence of your commitment and interest and discuss this with you. Therefore, interesting and developed experiences during your F3 year can provide you with a rich source of discussion points.

Regardless of what’s listed in the person specification and self-assessment criteria, all the domains for experiences and opportunities outlined above and those obtained while at medical school give good talking points for interviews – not just for training programmes in the immediate future. The bottom line of showing commitment to a specialty is maximising the opportunities you have available to you. For example, not everyone can work in a world-renowned subspecialty department, but working in your local department, taking work you’ve done to an international conference and developing interesting ideas and skills for the future could be argued to show more commitment and initiative than simply working in a prestigious unit. An F3 year provides an ideal opportunity for such experiences if this is what you wish to focus on.