UPDATED: March 7, 2023
You may have heard of “experience limits” when it comes to applying specialty training (residency) in the UK. What it means is that if a doctor has already exceeded the stated limits of experience, they will be deemed overqualified and therefore ineligible for training in that specialty. Or if a doctor has too much experience, they will be penalised in their application score or they will not be given priority for places.
In this article we answer some common questions about the limits according to the current guidelines.
The experience limits for ST1 or CT1
The specialties that have strict experience limits are for first-year posts ie. ST1 or CT1. As of 2023, these are the specialties with strict limits of experience. If you exceed these limits, you will be deemed ineligible to apply.
|Specialty||Maximum experience permitted|
|Anaesthetics ACCS CT1/Anaesthetics (core anaesthetics) CT1||18 months in Anaesthetics|
|Cardiothoracic surgery||18 months max. combined in the following specialties: Cardiac &/or Thoracic surgery, Congenital Cardiac Surgery and Cardiothoracic Transplantation by the closing date of the application|
|Neurosurgery||24 months clinical experience (in any specialty) with no more than 12 months combined experience in Neurosurgery, Neurology, Neuro-radiology, and Neuro-intensive care|
|Obstetrics & Gynaecology||24 months in Obstetrics & Gynaecology|
|Ophthalmology||18 months in Ophthalmology or Medical Ophthalmology by the interview date|
|Radiology||18 months in Radiology|
|Surgery (core surgery)||18 months in surgical specialties (Ophthalmology and Obstetrics & Gynaecology not included)|
*If you don’t complete any part of the UK Foundation programme, then up to 12 months of surgical experience will be considered equivalent to the Foundation years and therefore exempt from the limit.
The timing relates to the start of training which is usually, but not always, in August. So if you’re applying for August 2023, you should not reach these limits before then.
Please note that the specialty limits tend to change from year to year. So it’s always important to make sure you are looking at the latest person specifications for the specialty.
Experience limits for ST3/ST4
There does not appear to be any strict maximum experience limits for ST3 or ST4 level training posts so you can still apply even if you have a lot of experience.
However, many surgical specialties usually have a desired maximum experience requirement. This means that the limits are imposed when there are too many applicants. If there are too few applicants, then the limits may not be imposed.
Also, in many surgical specialties, having a lot of experience can be a disadvantage in the application score because the more experience you have, the less points you get.
|Specialty||Maximum experience desired|
|Obstetrics & Gynaecology ST3||60 months in Obstetrics & Gynaecology|
|Anaesthetics ST3||48 months in Anaesthetics or Intensive Care Medicine|
|General Surgery ST3||48 months in General Surgery|
|Vascular Surgery ST3||48 months in Vascular Surgery|
|Paediatric Surgery ST3||12 months at ST3 level (registrar level or above) in Paediatric Surgery, General Surgery, or Urology|
|Trauma & Orthopaedics ST3||
No desired maximum experienced stated however the longer you’ve worked after internship, and the more experience you already have in Orthopaedics, the less points you will get in your application.
No desired maximum experienced stated however if you have less than 5 months or more than 30 months experience in ENT, then you will get 0 out of 20 points in this section of the application.
If your specialty is not listed here, you can check what the maximum desired experience is in the Person Specifications of that specialty.
What counts towards the experience limits?
Any clinical experience anywhere in the world as a doctor after internship, outside of the official UK Foundation Programme up until the start date of the training programme is counted. This includes the following:
- Residency overseas
- Postgraduate training overseas
- Non-training jobs overseas
- Non-training jobs in the UK at any level (FY1, FY2, SHO, registrar, junior clinical fellow, senior clinical fellow, trust grade, LAS, locum appointment for service etc)
Some specialties exempt the first 12 months after internship from the experience limits however most specialties do not. To avoid disappointment, it is recommended that you do not exceed the experience limits through non-Foundation Programme jobs as much as possible.
What does not count towards the experience limits?
- Medical school rotations
- Internship rotations
- Clinical attachments
- Official FY1 rotations in the UK/Maltese Foundation Programme
- Official FY2 rotations in the UK/Maltese Foundation Programme ie. Standalone FY2
Doctor AB wants to apply for Obstetrics ST1 2020 which starts in August 2020. The experience limit for Obstetrics is 24 months by the start date.
He is applying in Round 1 which is in November 2019. He has completed 4 months of Obstetrics during a 12-month internship, and has 20 months of experience in Obstetrics after internship by the time he is applying in November 2019.
As of November 2019 (time of application), he is considered to have 20 months experience in Obstetrics. The 4 months Obstetrics experience during internship does not count towards the limit.
If he continues to work in Obstetrics for up to 4 months after submitting his application, he will still be eligible for ST1 since his experience is 24 months in total which is still permitted.
If he continues to work in Obstetrics for more than 4 months after submitting his application, he will no longer be eligible for ST1 since his experience will exceed 24 months.
Why don’t all specialties have a limit?
In general, I’ve noticed that specialties with low levels of competition do not have experience limits. The specialties that don’t currently have any experience limits at ST1/CT1 level are:
- Community sexual reproductive health
- Emergency medicine ACCS
- General Practice
- Internal medicine
- Public health
What happens if you exceed the limits?
You can still become a UK recognised Consultant, but through a different route.
So if you are barred from applying for year 1 of training due to the experience limits, and you still aim to become a UK recognised Consultant, then you have 2 options:
- Enter training at a level beyond ST1/CT1 (usually ST3) and become a Consultant through the CESR-CP route (you will still be awarded a CCT in most cases) OR
- Don’t enter any formal training but prove that you have the equivalent skills and knowledge some who has completed formal UK training and become a Consultant through the CESR route.
In the UK, CCT, CESR-CP and CESR are all equally accepted for entry to the GMC Specialist Register and therefore recognition as a Consultant. This is not always the case overseas. If you plan to migrate after completing your UK training, check with the medical authority of that country whether CESR is accepted.
You can read more about how the CESR pathway works here.
Related: CESR-CP soon to recognised as CCT
How strict are these limits?
Pretty strict. The specialties that impose experience limits tend to have more than enough applicants, so they have no problem rejecting applications from those who have exceeded the limits.
Does the first year after internship count as FY2 and therefore excluded from the limit?
It depends on the specialty. The rules for this are a grey area so it’s best you contact the recruitment office for your desired specialty directly so you have an official response.
Does CREST convert your experience to Foundation modules?
We’ve asked several recruitment offices this, and the answer so far has been no. Having CREST or your F2 competencies signed does not make your post-internship experience a Foundation module. Therefore, it does not remove your experience from the limit.
This is based on our correspondence with several recruitment offices. If you would like to verify or try to get a different answer, you can try asking them yourself. We have listed the contact details for all specialty recruitment offices on our Useful Links page.
To avoid disappointment, it is recommended that you do not exceed the experience limits through non-Foundation Programme jobs as much as possible.
My final advice
Avoid exceeding the experience limits as much as possible if you want to enter UK specialty training!
If it’s not possible to enter UK training due to overexperience, then you can consider the CESR route instead, you can read about CESR here.
Need guidance for a specific specialty?
We are working on comprehensive guides for all major specialties! From GMC registration, to how to become a UK Consultant.