Clearing up terminology
Planning your application to the Foundation Programme can be confusing, and so we have cleared up some terminology. The geographic region to where you are applying is called a “deanery” or “Foundation School” e.g. West Midlands, Severn, Thames. For academic programmes these regions may also be called “Units of Academic Application”. Application is competitive, and applicants want to know how to increase their chances of getting a job. Your “score” is based in part on your “Educational Performance Measure”. This is described below.
Why apply to the academic foundation programme?
The academic foundation programme (AFP) offers the opportunity to have a block of teaching, research or management experience in place of a clinical placement during your foundation years (FY1 and FY2). Some AFP placements instead incorporate an academic “thread” over the two years with protected time throughout the two year programme. Normal foundation posts have six blocks, each of four months, by doing an AFP, you would do five clinical blocks and one dedicated to research. In some foundation schools (deaneries), the format is different, with dedicated days off during your whole FY2 year in which to do research. Typically, AFP posts are themed and will have a pre-allocated selection of jobs, so for example doing a surgical AFP, one may get a number of surgical jobs and dedicated surgical research time – setting up well for a core surgical application following FY2. A great deal of variance exists in what you can do with your research time depending on which deanery you apply to. Some will have predefined research projects for you to join, others will be much more freedom, although with less structure.
One of the benefits of obtaining an AFP is that it allows you to further develop any interests you have had at medical school, enables you to have a dedicated period for research and allows you to further distinguish yourself from other applicants as getting an AFP is a highly competitive process. AFP’s also allow you to know your jobs a few months before the standard FPAS system and therefore enable you to sort everything out sooner than would normally be possible. It is a separate application process to the conventional foundation jobs, which will allow you to exhibit your achievements to date. Many programmes enable you to be very self directed in terms of projects and time management, meaning you can really make the AFP your own.
There are a number of downsides to the AFP, and it certainly isn’t for everyone! Having an AFP means that you need to achieve in 20 months what others need to in 24 months – though this is rarely a problem. Despite knowing your jobs earlier than others, these are still liable to change at short notice once the main FPAS allocation comes out, and the process is highly competitive, depending on when your finals fall, it may be extra stress at a bad time!
Points to consider
Once you have decided that you’d like to go for the AFP, things to consider include:
1. Location of the job;
2. Type of research/education/management involved in academic portion;
3. What the main clinical jobs involve (don’t forget this makes up a larger portion of your time than the academic!);
4. Where the academic portion falls (some people would prefer to have it early in FY2 so that they can continue the project in their free time for the remaining two jobs of FY2). Others prefer to have it towards the end of F2 to allow adequate time to prepare for the post. You will need twelve months preparation time if you wish to set up your own research project with the relevant approvals.
What are they looking for?
The application process involves shortlisting via an online application with successful candidates being offered an interview. The application scoring system for shortlisting before interview is variable, so it is important to check your deanery’s local guidance and the national guidance applicant’s handbook. In recent years, using the Thames deanery as an example, there has been an Educational Performance Measure (EPM) “cut off” score. If candidates meet this score the deanery will then consider the other components of your application. The EPM is made up of the following:
- Maximum of 43 points for decile ranking (1st decile=43, 2nd= 42 etc.)
- Maximum of 5 points for further degrees (5 for PhD, 4 for Masters/BSc with 1st)
- Maximum of 2 points for publications (must have a PubMed Index)
Data regarding the actual score is not easily available, but it’s worth thinking that in Thames they invite two people per post (so 254 people in 2015’s selection process), and you therefore need to score highly for them to even look at the rest of your application. In the handbook they make it very clear about the scoring, and effectively this awards points for further publications, presentations, prizes, merits/distinctions during medical school. This is often then supplemented with whitebox questions – but each Deanery or “Unit of Academic Application” has different requirements and systems for this scoring.
Irrespective of where you are applying the following will assist your application and increase the likelihood of a successful application:
1. High EPM (this is arguably the most important feature, as they need to know that you are capable of achieving your competencies in less time that if you were doing standard FPAS.
2. Published papers (these must have PubMed ID (PMID), and if you’ve used a paper in your standard EPM, do not repeat it again).
3. Oral/Poster presentations (these hold different scoring).
4. Prizes – Ideally national or international, but any prestigious internal awards are worth putting down.
5. BSc – Having an intercalated BSc, ideally with a high honours grading will be very helpful, both in terms of EPM and also for the academic aspect of the application where further degrees add substantial points.
6. Positions of responsibility/different experiences – for white box questions, the markers will have read a few hundred applications describing the time you taught another student on the wards, but not many describing the international teaching course you set up!
How to get it?
1. Start early to understand the system
2. Talk to people who have been through the process recently, especially those who have got the job! Calling the Postgraduate Office for the relevant deanery may allow you to speak to someone who can put you in touch with the relevant applicants
3. Ensure your application evidence is lined up prior to the application becoming available.
4. Success at interview
The interviews for AFP are probably the first medical interview that you have done. Irrespective of if you get the job, this is a fantastic opportunity to develop your interviewing skills and break the ice on medical interviews (See the IJS Careers article on interviews here).
Depending on the location, the nature of the interview is different so it is worth talking to people who have interviewed in recent years to find out what the format is. For example, in London you do not interview specifically for a job, but as a points scoring exercise. Knowing the recent research in your area of interest is unlikely to help you here as much as some solid knowledge of evidence based medicine principles. However, in some deaneries it is highly specific, so learning about what the unit you’ll be joining does and learning the basics of common problems for them will be a massive help. Typically the interviews include a clinical portion and an academic. The clinical aspect of the interview is to ensure that you are capable of being a doctor who will have more limitations on their time – knowing key areas is critical. The academic is your chance to shine; depending on location it may be based around either your CV, so don’t neglect that audit you did three years ago, or around an abstract. It is therefore worth getting a structure for presenting an abstract/research vignette, becoming fluent at discussing statistics and perhaps integrating some of your own research experience into any academic discussion. If your CV is likely to be the focus, make sure you know it inside out and that you can talk objectively about your work. Make time prior to the interview to read over any papers you have authored, as they may well have read them and ask you some in depth questions.
An interview is an oral examination. It is very easy to tell those people that haven’t put the time in, because they don’t get the job! Those who do not prepare struggle unnecessarily. Excelling at interview is like excelling in any examination; practice and revision for plenty of time in advance. You need to revise; your CV, scenarios from you experience as a medical student that exhibit your skills, current events in medicine and surgery, key topics in academic medicine. The prepared candidates will almost know the questions they will be asked before sitting down.
- You can get the job you want if you put the time in
- If you start early in Medical School, you can almost score 100% in the EPM
- If you start late, you can still excel if you prepare for your interview properly
- Make sure you know the ins and outs of the job you apply for
- Speak to doctors that have been through the process in previous years