The Savvy IMG

8 tips to succeed when applying for UK specialty training

Applying for specialty training in the UK can be a daunting process. From an Ophthalmology trainee in London, here are the top 8 tips to help you increase your chances of success. Be sure to read all 8 so you can get started on improving your application today!

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8 tips for International medical graduates to succeed when applying for UK specialty training

UPDATED: March 29, 2022

Applying for specialty training in the UK can be a daunting process. We’ve written this article with our top 8 tips to help you increase your chances of success.

Be sure to read all 8 and you can get started on improving your application today.

1. Start preparing early

How early? As soon as you know that you want to train in the UK and what specialty you want to pursue – even if you’re still a med student. By starting as early as possible, you can do the appropriate research into your options and start planning your steps in order to minimise wasted time, money and effort. What many IMGs don’t know is that many aspects of the UK portfolio can be done back home. Imagine preparing your portfolio over several years starting from med school, instead of trying to cram everything into just a few months while adjusting to live in the UK. I guarantee you will score much higher! Preparing early is the core concept that we emphasize in our FREE course “The IMG Shortcut” and is the key to getting into specialty training in two years. Enrol in our FREE course now.

2. Familiarise yourself with the person specifications

Every specialty has a set of personal specifications. These documents contain the list of criteria used to select applicants for the job. There are two types of criteria on the list: essential and desirable.

Read the person specifications very carefully. You will need to meet all of the essential criteria to be eligible to apply, and as many of the desirable criteria as possible to be a competitive applicant. Remember, the more competitive the specialty, the more desirable criteria you need to fulfil as many other applicants will be doing the same thing.

The person specifications can change each year so make sure you are always looking at the current version.

Related: What IMGs need to know about applications to specialty training in the UK

3. Find out how applicants are scored

The application process for specialty training in the UK is very transparent. Aside from the person specifications, most specialties will tell you exactly how applicants are scored. The main components of the score are similar for most specialties but the number of points awarded to each domain may differ.

The main areas for scoring include:

  • Quality improvement projects
  • Publications
  • Presentations
  • Leadership and management
  • Experience in teaching medical professionals
  • What training you have received to teach medical professionals
  • Additional degrees
  • Postgraduate exams
  • Commitment to specialty (eg. projects, electives, taster weeks, courses, conferences etc)
  • Achievements outside of medicine
  • And of course, your interview performance.

Get your hands on the scoring criteria and start improving your CV based on this. You need to be strategic and well-rounded, meaning you need to score points in every category. Having 10 publications will not make up for a lack of teaching experience. We go through this important concept thoroughly in our Masterclass and help guide our students on how to maximize their portfolio score.

Again, these scoring methods can change each year so make sure you are looking at the most up-to-date version. You can find links to the latest information for each specialty in the Useful Links page under the section “Specialty Recruitment”.

Related: An IMG’s guide to the UK portfolio for training jobs

4. Understand RLMT exemption

RLMT stands for the Resident Labour Market Test. It was a rule that prioritised certain groups of doctors (eg. British citizens) when it came to training jobs. Because of this, RLMT used to be the primary barrier for IMGs to enter competitive specialties such as Surgery, Radiology and Ophthalmology.

However, as of October 6, 2019, all medical jobs have been included on the UK Shortage Occupation List. This means that IMGs are now exempt from RLMT and are now eligible to apply for UK specialty training in any specialty! (Except Public Health)

This change in the immigration rules may not last forever, so it’s advisable to make the best of this opportunity now while it lasts!

Related: 9 ways the new Shortage Occupation List affects IMGs dreaming of UK specialty training

5. Prepare for the MSRA

The Multi-Specialty Recruitment Assessment (MSRA)  is a computer based test with 2 components: professional dilemmas (110 minutes), and clinical problem  solving (75 minutes).

Eight specialties require applicants to sit this test: GP, Radiology, Ophthalmology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Community Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (CSRH), Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), Core Psychiatry and Neurosurgery.

It is often used as a short-listing tool to determine which applicants are invited to interview. Most specialties also use it as part of the overall application score. If you aim to apply to one of the 8 specialties that require it, find out how the MSRA is used during the application process and start preparing for it about 2 months ahead.

We recommend Dr. Aman Arora’s MSRA course as he is extremely passionate about medical education which clearly radiates from him when we met him at Naseer’s IMG conference. He even gave us a 10% discount you can use on top of any ongoing sale on all his products, just apply ARORASAVVY10 on checkout!

6. Identify and reach out to potential mentors

There are two types of mentors that you’ll need to find:

Recently successful applicants

These doctors are great mentors for obvious reasons. They’re familiar with the application process and they came out on top, so you should pay close attention to whatever they advise! You can find these trainees in the NHS hospital you work at or ask colleagues if they know anyone who would be willing to be contacted about applications.

When you speak to them, make sure you are as fully informed about the application process as possible and only ask specific questions. 

Do not ask them how it all works or to explain everything to you from the beginning without doing your own basic research. It’s difficult to help someone in a short amount of time if they haven’t done their due diligence, and it also reflects poorly on you.

Senior trainees and Consultants

When it comes to senior trainees and Consultants, it’s less about the application process, and more about gaining insights into the specialty and building up your portfolio.

You can contact Consultants in your own hospital or any hospital for that matter. Email them first to introduce yourself and submit your CV. Aim to set up a time and place to meet about potential projects you could work on such as an audit or publication.

This is also a great opportunity to ask thoughtful questions about the specialty itself. What do they love about it? Are there any aspects they dislike? Learn more about what actually it’s like to be a senior trainee or Consultant. Try to arrange a taster week, or attend clinics or theatre with them on a more regular basis.

7. Filter out bad advice

Nobody intentionally gives out bad advice, but it can happen. It’s usually when a person gives outdated advice and is unaware that the rules have changed since their time. This is why it’s important to speak to recent applicants and to always, always, always check the current guidance.

Bad advice can also take the form of discouragement. Try not to take this personally, the person discouraging you may just be trying to prepare you for the worst. Even UK graduates can take 2-3 applications to succeed in the most competitive specialties so it’s always a possibility for you too.

It’s good to have some idea of a back-up plan, but keep your focus on Plan A which is to get in on the first attempt.

Related: What IMGs need to know about applications to specialty training (residency) in the UK

8. Start saving up

Building up your application for specialty training can be pricey! You’ll need to attend courses, conferences, pay for exams etc. It can cost you a good £1,000-4,000.

In general, the more competitive your specialty, the more it will cost because you need to do more for your CV. Start budgeting wisely because this is all an investment in your future.

Related: The cost of PLAB & GMC fees + tips on saving money

Further reading

8 tips specialty training UK IMG PLAB MRCP MRCS

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6 Responses

  1. hi
    I am a neurologist with 12 years of work experience and living outside the UK.
    Is it possible for me to work in the UK after passing all of the following:
    mrcp 1.2.
    best regards

    1. Sure, as long you get GMC registration you can start applying for jobs. Please check the full requirements for GMC registration and our article on career options. Best of luck!

  2. Hi, can you please tell me how the cutting chances are for IMG core tsurgical trainees in the UK?

    Also, in essential criteria for CST 2020 under eligibility section it was mentioned that they require –
    ” 12 months medical experience after full GMC registration (or equivalent post licensing experience) ”

    I have copy pasted the exact line from the pdf of CST 2020. Does this mean that the experience they are asking for need not be from NHS? Can it be from my home country as well? Cos It wasn’t mentioned anywhere that the experience required should be only from NHS. If you happen to have any idea about this, kindly let me know.

  3. Hey, awesome article. I have a question, on the third tip on finding out how applicants are scored , you mentioned to get our hands on the scoring criteria to begin improving our C.V. where can i find the scoring criteria for Surgical CT1. I am a British citizen studying in the EEA, hoping to enter into surgical training after graduating and completing foundation competencies. I found the person specifications, but not the scoring criteria. Please need your guidance.

    Thank you, hope to hear from you soon

    1. Hi there! For core surgery please search “core surgery portfolio self-assessment guidance” for the scoring. The current version is the 2019 one. Best of luck! If you’re looking for step-by-step guidance you might be interested in the IMG Masterclass.

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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
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