Clinical attachments are a great way for IMGs to familiarise themselves with the roles and responsibilities of UK doctors and how the NHS works. It is also useful, but not essential, in preparing for the PLAB 2 exam.
If you don’t have any UK experience or have a long career gap, clinical attachments can also be helpful to demonstrate your motivation and commitment to working in the UK to prospective employers.
So how do you go about getting one?
The main crux of arranging a clinical attachment is finding a UK Consultant who is willing to supervise you in an observership role. It will require extra unpaid work on their part to guide an observer but despite that, there are many Consultants who do say yes.
Now there are different ways you can go about finding a supervising Consultant and applying for a clinical attachment. Here I discuss 5 different methods. I hope one will work for you!
Take note that you must be a medical graduate to participate in a clinical attachment.
If you are still a medical student you will need to arrange a medical elective through a UK university. The requirements for medical electives differ per university. Please Google “visiting student medical elective uk” for more information.
Also, make sure you have the Oxford Handbook for the Foundation Programme (available here on Amazon) when doing your clinical attachment or elective! It is a great reference to help with understanding the system and how medicine is practised in the UK. I used it when I did a medical elective at the Royal London Hospital and it certainly helped me a lot!
1. Apply for an established clinical attachment programme
The hospitals on this list have a formal application process for clinical attachments. This is great because it means you don’t need to find a supervising consultant on your own, they’ll do it for you by matching you to a Consultant in the specialty you request.
Because it’s easier to arrange attachments through these programmes, they often have a lot of applicants making it quite competitive. Nonetheless, do submit your application as there is nothing to lose by doing so.
Check these websites for the application forms, requirements, and fees. (Fees cover for pre-employment checks and visa-related costs that the hospital may incur.)
- Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust
- University of Southampton
- Whipps Cross hospital
- Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust
- NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
- Guy’s & St Thomas’ hospital
- Moorfields Eye Hospital
- Sinolink Healthcare
This list is not exhaustive and you can look for other clinical attachment programmes by searching “clinical attachment + name of the hospital you want to work in”.
2. Contact individual consultants
This is the usual way to find clinical attachments. You essentially look for Consultants in the specialty of your choice and email them directly to inquire. Take note, you may need to email dozens of Consultants to get a response but the more you email, the more likely it is you’ll be successful.
To find suitable Consultants, search for hospitals in the area you wish to visit. On the hospital website navigate to the medical department you’re interested in. There should be a list of the Consultants working in that department with their email addresses. Some hospital websites also have a section where they list all the Consultants from all specialties.
If there are no individual email addresses, there may be a department email address or phone number you can call to make an inquiry. Ask about who would be best to contact in the department about arranging an attachment or period of observership.
What to write in your email to a Consultant
The BMA has published this helpful list of what to write your email.
“We suggest that you include the following details in a letter requesting a clinical attachment:
- your personal details
- your reasons for wanting to complete a clinical attachment
- a brief outline of your medical background, your career ambitions, why you are interested in this department/field in particular and what you hope to get from the clinical attachment
- your level of clinical expertise and your previous work experience in health
- whether you are applying for GMC registration and what stage in the process you have reached (i.e. whether you have taken/passed the IELTS (international English language test), PLAB 1 or PLAB 2)
- We recommend also attaching a current CV including medical exams and work experience, a copy of your learning objectives, and details of referees.”
What to do after you’ve found a supervising Consultant
Some hospitals do not have a formal process for facilitating clinical attachments at all. In this case, once you have found a Consultant who is happy to supervise, you’ll need to contact Human Resources (HR) to arrange it. Liaise closely with the Consultant and HR to make the agreed upon attachment a reality.
Other hospitals do have a clinical attachment process in place once you have identified a Consultant who has agreed to supervise you. Here is a list of such hospitals:
3. Contact individual hospitals
It can be helpful to know if certain Consultants are open to supervising a clinical attachment before you email them.
To inquire about which Consultants might be able assist you, I would advise contacting the Director of Medical Education in the Medical Education Department or the Postgraduate Medical Education Centre.
Visit the website of the hospital you would like to have your clinical attachment at and search for the education department. There should be contact details available with either an email address or phone number.
Email is usually the best way to make first contact but if no email address is given, don’t be afraid to call! The members of staff in medical education tend to be very approachable and friendly. They should be able to advise you if there is an established application process for clinical attachments, or which Consultants you can contact.
If you are able to get the Consultant’s email address via the Medical Education Department then do make sure to mention this this in your email to the Consultant.
4. Ask friends or colleagues who have done attachments
Again, this is about identifying Consultants or hospitals that are open to supervising IMGs for a clinical attachment.
If you don’t know anyone who has done an attachment, try visiting one of the many IMG Facebook groups and do this:
- Use the search function in the group and search “clinical attachment”.
- Many IMGs have asked about clinical attachments before so look in the comments for recommendations.
- If anyone has offered to help with clinical attachments or has a recommendation, reply to their comment to ask their permission to send them a private message.
- Keep your message brief and respectful, and politely request a contact – whether a Consultant or hospital administrative staff.
- Make sure to thank them!
5. Ask friends, family or colleagues working in the UK
If you know someone working in a hospital department you want to have your clinical attachment in, you can request their help. They do not have to be a doctor to help you, most members of staff have good working relationships with their Consultants and may be able to introduce you to them. They can ask the Consultants they are working with if they are open to supervising an IMG in an observership post and give you the contact details.
If you don’t know anyone working in the UK, you can make a new post in a Facebook IMG group asking if anyone is currently working in the department that you want to do a clinical attachment in. Repeat steps 3 to 5 above in method 4 above and hopefully this will provide you a lead.
For those who are helping others arrange clinical attachments:
Do make sure you have permission from the person whose contact details you are passing on before you give it out. Make it clear that a doctor would like to contact them about arranging a clinical attachment. If they don’t agree, please do not give out their details.
This article should give you a solid strategy to find a clinical attachment. By using multiple approaches you will increase your chances of success.
The 5 methods are to:
- Apply for an established clinical attachment programme
- Contact individual Consultants
- Contact individual hospitals
- Ask friends or colleagues who have done attachments
- Ask friends or colleagues working in the UK
Don’t forget to get a copy of the Oxford Handbook for the Foundation Programme to help you understand what’s going on, and make the most of your clinical attachment.
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