When you apply for specialty training jobs in the UK (ie. residency or postgraduate training), you will most likely need to submit a portfolio as part of your application.
The portfolio is really important because the score can decide whether or not you make it through to the interview stage, and can contribute up to one half of your final application points. So if you’re an IMG aiming to get a UK training job, don’t overlook the importance of the portfolio!
So what is the portfolio?
The portfolio is essentially a collection of your professional achievements. There are several categories of achievements. The different categories can be referred to as “sections” of the portfolio or “domains”.
Each specialty will decide which domains they include in their portfolio score, how many points they assign to each domain, and how they will score you for each individual domain. Finding out early on what the scoring criteria is for your target specialty is key to maximising your points so you can get through to interview and score as high as you can in your application.
In order to score points in the portfolio, you will usually need to provide documentation of each achievement in the form of certificates or Consultant letters confirming the details of your achievements.
No evidence usually means no points!
What are the different portfolio domains?
As mentioned above, each specialty will have their own list of domains that are included in the portfolio score. In this article, I’ll guide you through the most common ones with links to further resources to help you build up your portfolio.
Audit and Quality Improvement (QI)
The concept of audit or a quality improvement is usually new to most IMGs. Audit & QI are essentially different methods of improving a health care service, this is different from research which is about finding answers to questions producing new knowledge.
Because delivering the best service possible is so vital to the practice of medicine, audit & QI are often given quite a bit of importance in the portfolio for most specialties.
Most of the time, the audit or QI project does not need to be in the same specialty you are applying for. For example, for my Ophthalmology application, I did a QI project in Orthopaedics and scored full points.
What’s important is that the project was done correctly and it resulted in a positive change. However, some specialties do expect the audit or QI project to be in the same specialty so be sure to check what your specialty wants.
It’s also worth mentioning that audit is increasingly being seen as an inefficient and outdated method. Some specialties will only give you points if you use QI methodology.
Because of this, it’s important to really understand the similarities and differences between the two and to check which one your specialty gives points for.
The vast majority of specialties will score you for publications you have in a medical journal. This domain is quite straightforward and something we’re all familiar with as doctors anywhere in the world. The scores for publications vary depending on multiple factors such as:
- The type of publication eg. original research, case reports or editorial etc
- Your position as author ie. first author, second author, co-author, etc
- Whether the journal is peer-reviewed or indexed in PubMed
- How many publications you have
Most specialties will include presentations as part of the portfolio score. This refers to presenting your work at a meeting of medical or scientific peers eg. your hospital department or at a conference. It includes both oral and poster presentations.
The types of things you can present include audit findings, a quality improvement project, a case report, results of original research, etc.
Your score will range from low to high depending on these factors:
- Oral vs poster (oral presentations typically score higher)
- Number of presentations
- Level of the meeting ie. local (your own hospital department), regional, national or international
- Medical events (directory of courses & conferences in the UK)
- You can also just Google “conference + name of your specialty” to find relevant meetings you can present your work at
- Templates for posters
Leadership and management
Not all specialties score you on leadership and management so be sure to check whether yours does. Usually specialties will only be interested in medicine-related leadership roles such as being a member of a doctor’s trade union committee, or managing the rota in your department, but some specialties also consider leadership roles outside of medicine. This could include positions such as chairperson of a medical society or charity organisation.
Having courses and qualifications in medical leadership can look good on your CV but to gain points, you usually need to show that you have actually used what you’ve learned in a real leadership role.
Scores usually take into account the following factors:
- Medical vs non-medical positions
- Length of tenure in that role
- Evidence that you have made a difference as a leader
Training you have received to teach medical professionals
Teaching is part of life in medicine – we all want to be taught and we’re all expected to teach. There are certain principles and skills that you should use when teaching healthcare professionals and most specialties will want to see that you have received training in this area.
Training can be in the form of short courses of 1-2 days duration, all the way up to a postgraduate degree like a Postgraduate Certificate, Diploma or even a Masters.
In general, the higher the training you have, the more points you will get. Of course, the higher the training, the more expensive it is and the longer it takes to complete.
There are lots of courses out there and we don’t have a personal recommendation so simply Google “teach the teacher doctor course uk” or “training to teach doctor uk” and you’ll find a whole world of courses you can choose from.
Experience in teaching medical professionals
Now that you have training in how to teach, almost all specialties will want to see that you have put that training into practise and have actually taught other healthcare professionals. This can include healthcare students eg. medical students, nursing students, or any other medically related profession, as well fully qualified working professionals such as your doctor colleagues, nursing colleagues etc.
You will gain more points depending on these factors:
- How often you teach
- The duration of the teaching programme
- Whether or not you organised the teaching programme yourself
For this portfolio domain, you will also need to provide evidence of feedback from the people you have taught. This is essential in most specialties.
Essentially all specialties will award you points in your portfolio for degrees that you hold other than your medical degree. They usually have to be related to medicine in some way eg. a clinically-oriented degree, medical education (teaching), healthcare management, healthcare leadership, healthcare policy, international health, etc.
Types of degrees that usually count for this domain include:
- Intercalated Bachelors degree (a degree that was completed during your medical degree)
- Additional Bachelors level degrees
- Postgraduate Certificates (equivalent to 1/3 of a Masters) degree
- Postgraduate Diploma (equivalent to 2/3 of a Masters degree)
- A Masters degree
- A research-based MD (if your medical degree is called an MD, it will not count as an additional degree)
- A PhD
Postgraduate qualifications (exams)
At first-year level (CT1 or ST1), having 1 or 2 parts of an examination relevant to your specialty will usually gain you additional points in your application. For example, for Core Surgery, you will gain points for having MRCS Part A under your belt.
If you are applying for higher specialty training (ST3/ST4 level), then postgraduate qualifications become a requirement rather than just attracting extra points. Using surgery again as an example, if you are applying for ST3 Plastic Surgery, then you must pass both MRCS Part A and Part B otherwise you will not be eligible to apply.
Commitment to specialty
This is often a major part of the portfolio score. In this domain, the selection committee wants to see how dedicated you are to a career in that specialty.
Ways to demonstrate your commitment include:
- Electives as a medical student
- Clinical attachments
- Taster weeks (these are essentially clinical attachments that only last for 1 week)
- Attendance at relevant courses and conferences
- Logbook of relevant procedures
- Publications, audits, and presentations in that specialty etc
- Relevant exams or qualifications
- How to find a clinical attachment
- Royal College websites (for information about courses, conferences and exams)
Achievements outside of medicine
Not all specialties allocate scores for achievements outside of medicine, so don’t be in a hurry to join the Olympic games just yet! Check your specialty first and see what types of achievements outside of medicine they count in the application score.
It might not be feasible to start something new if you’re applying in a few months time, but if you have already done something, then don’t be shy – be sure to include it in your application!
Achievements can fall under different categories:
- Charity or voluntary work
- Technological innovation etc.
So now you have a better idea of the types of things that are included in the portfolio score, it’s time to find the scoring criteria for your specialty and plan how you’re going to maximise your points. To find them, visit our Useful Links page under the section Official websites for applications to training for each specialty.
Now some specialties do not publish the exact scoring criteria for the portfolio. In those cases, you need to be aware of the general scoring framework for each domain which is something I explain in detail in our IMG Masterclass.
I also advise on what score you should be aiming for depending on how competitive that specialty is, and the best strategy to reach that score in your own personal timeline.
If you’re looking to maximise your chances of getting into UK training on your first application like I did, be sure to check out the IMG Masterclass where I teach you all the secrets to success as an IMG!