Make a success of your specialty application

by Sophia Bourne

How to apply for and thrive at your chosen area of interest in medicine

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 24 November 2020
Juniors Working Together Emergency Manchester

Your foundation years fly by – one minute you’ve just stepped out of medical school, and the next, you’re being asked to make decisions about the rest of your career.

You may have already taken time out after completing your foundation stage and are looking to return to training, or perhaps you have just started foundation year 2 and are now considering where your career goes next.

This autumn you’ll have the opportunity to apply for training in your chosen specialty. The application process is standardised across the UK – but it’s very competitive too!

Read on to understand what you need to do now to prepare and present yourself at your very best.

Where do your strengths and interests lie?

Whether you are clear about the job you ultimately want or are still deciding, it’s a good idea to review your portfolio and recall what you’ve done since medical school. This can help you to rekindle your interests and bring to light feedback you’ve received.

You’ll gain insight about what you’re good at and what you’re interested in. Recruiters are looking for relevant skills and achievements as well as evidence that you’re passionate about what you’re applying for, so you can use your portfolio to inform your CV.

If you are returning to training after time out, review the experiences you have gained and how you are a better doctor now, as a result.

Get clarity on specialties

Did you know that there are 65 specialties in the UK to choose from? With a better idea of your strengths and interests, you should seek out sources of career advice including from practitioners in the field, postgraduate deaneries, royal colleges and NHS Health Careers to get a good idea of what a specialty involves. Our Specialty explorer tool can also help you consider fields you may not have already considered.

As you plan your applications, it’s worth noting that competition varies between specialties, so you might want to have a back-up plan. Competition statistics let you see application trends over the years.

What are recruiters looking for?

To get a better idea of what recruiters seek, check out the person specification for the skills, knowledge and abilities needed for the role you’re interested in. See how closely you match the ideal candidate.

Plan your time

Timetables for specialty training posts that commence the following year usually emerge mid-late September. Posts are advertised from early October for ACF (Academic Clinical Fellowships), and from early November for IMT1 (internal medicine training 1) and ST1 (specialty training 1). The application windows run for three to four weeks after the advertisements are posted, and then interviews run from November to March, depending upon the specialty pathway.

Make the Medical Specialty Recruitment Applicant Handbook 2021 your first port of call. It will help you to get an overview of the process, eligibility, and the lead recruiters for each pathway.

Understand the application process for your path

Once you have narrowed down your specialty choices, follow the links from the Medical Specialty Recruitment Applicant Handbook 2021 to the lead recruiter websites where you can find out what information is needed for the form and how your application is assessed.

Some applications are scored so it’s important that you can gather your evidence. It’s important to check this information regularly, as the process for one specialty application may be very different to that of another, and in case anything changes.

If you have a medical condition or disability, or are a carer for someone who is disabled, you may be eligible for pre-allocation to the area in which you need to be placed. Take a look at the Special Circumstances section in the applicant handbook for details on how to apply.

The form!

All applications for specialty training are made online through Oriel where you’ll be able to register, see vacancies, apply, and manage your interviews and offers over the coming months. Visit the website now to familiarise yourself, and check out their user guide.

Once registered, you will be able to apply for as many posts/specialties as you wish, as long as you meet the eligibility and selection criteria. However, be mindful of how long it takes to submit an application form and the details and documents required to support your application. You’ll also need to have identified and approached appropriate referees for your application, so make sure you factor this in.

The team at Oriel put lots of extra work in to try and avoid website glitches and crashes around the time they know applications will be submitted. However, it is still sensible to give yourself some contingency time, so aim to submit your application early!

What next?

A three to four week application window may seem like a long time, but don’t underestimate the work involved in completing the online form as you’ll have to do this on top of your day job.

So, make sure you spend time now understanding the process, fine-tuning your choices, and gathering all of your supporting documentation. Pace yourself over the coming weeks to guarantee you submit your application in good time and give yourself the best chance possible for an interview. All the best!

Sophia Bourne is a learning and development consultant at the BMA

Contributor: Sarah Hallett, BMA junior doctors committee deputy chair


Further resources:

Application to specialty webinar (1 hour)

Application to specialty training module (1 hour)

Interview skills for ST1 applications webinar (1 hour)

Interview skills for specialty posts module (1 hour)


National applications

Specialty training posts in Scotland

Specialty training posts in Northern Ireland

Specialty training posts in Wales