Has the world of sedating patients and popping tubes down their necks tickled your fancy? Do you want to know how to create a watertight anaesthetics portfolio? Well, look no further.
Anaesthetics is a fantastic speciality caring for a wide variety of patients in every aspect of hospital life. I was sold on Anaesthetics from an early stage. This allowed me to gather a large number of tips and tricks from other core trainees, ultimately helping me in obtaining an anaesthetics training number straight out of F2. In this article, I want to give you all that same head start, by sharing the tips I accumulated along the way.
Understand the process
- Unfortunately, getting into a competitive speciality is not always a reflection of your clinical practice, knowledge and experience. All training applications are a game, and understanding the rules of the game (aka the portfolio points system) is crucial in obtaining a training number.
- Applying for anaesthetics is a multi-stage process. It’s important you understand these steps to ensure you don’t miss a deadline. Although most years follow a similar process, it can change. For example, due to the pandemic, the portfolio stage was eliminated and the Multi-Specialty-Recruitment-Assessment (MSRA) was introduced.
- Go to the ANRO (anaesthetics national recruitment office) website and read the applicant guidance. This website has lots of really important information including where the jobs are being offered, competition ratios and a page with all of the key dates (click here).
- Note: the next application cycle guidance may not have been published yet but it’s good to have a look at the key dates from the year before as these are often reflected in the following year.
GO AND PRINT THE PERSON SPECIFICATION NOW!
- The earlier you do this the better. Print it out and stick it on your wall. Again, the attached link will be the one from previous application cycles but the core of the person specification remains unchanged year to year.
- This will give you more time to pick up points for the portfolio part of the application. For example, the audit and QI section has points allocated to how many projects you are doing each year, so it’s good to start early. I printed this document at the start of F1 and ticked things off as I went along.
- This specification outlines what you can score points for when submitting a portfolio in the application process. In my year (2021) this scoring system was removed but, the first 10 minutes of my interview was based on ‘my portfolio’ and had very similar scoring criteria as the person specification from previous years.
- Downloading the supplemental document can help clarify whether things score in the grey areas.
Focus on those easy points
- Forget about trying to cram in a PhD – focus your energy on time-efficient points, such as audits, QI and taster days.
- Go on the ‘Career in Anaesthetics’ RCOA online course. For £34 you get a point on your application (2020 specification). Not only will it explain the most up to date application process, but it is also evidence at interviews that demonstrates ‘Commitment to the Specialty’. You can also get a day off work as study leave, so it’s win-win!
- Remember to use all of those taster days. Do them early as you can (maybe not during your first month of F1). You need to complete 3 taster days to get the point: by doing them early on you can establish useful links in the anaesthetic department. Tell them you’re keen to do a project on these days and if you’re lucky you may get something going.
- Get involved with patient recruitment for research trials. Most hospitals have trials running, so go and speak to research nurses and say you’d like to help recruit patients. They are usually more than happy to include you.
- If you are still a student, try to do a student selected unit or elective in something related to anaesthetics. I personally didn’t get these points as my elective was a bit of a jolly in Sri Lanka, but this is an easy point to obtain.
- Become a mess president. Currently gets you a point, but this may change in future.
Show your commitment to the speciality
This is the most highly scored domain in the interview. Taster days, student units, electives, anaesthetic conferences, careers fairs and jobs on ITU will all give you experiences you can draw on in an interview.
Write down your reflections during these experiences, and save them for your interview preparation later on. This might sound like a lot of effort, but interviewers will be looking for you to reflect during the interview.
You can flog a dead horse
If you do a project, present it somewhere. These are easy points on your application. As an F1 I didn’t feel my project was ‘worthy’ of presenting at a conference but don’t underestimate the value of your work. My project involved placing sticker reminders on monitors. It was very basic but it was well received and I managed to present at a national conference.
Remember: projects in unrelated specialities still get you points on the QI/Audit section at CT1 level.
Don’t just stop at conferences. With a little bit of effort, you may find journals willing to publish your work as an abstract or in full. Doesn’t matter what journal as long as it has a PubMed ID.
If the first cycle of your QIP went well, DO A SECOND. Interviewers love a second audit/PDSA cycle!
WARNING: you can end up spending a lot of money publishing and presenting your work. I’d be particularly careful when publishing, as there are many ‘pay to publish journals’. My advice is to ask a senior colleague experienced in QI/publishing what they think of the journal. Academies often have some funding you can use, so always worth an email.
Don’t do anything for free
- And by this I mean don’t do anything that doesn’t get you points or benefit your portfolio as a whole.
- It’s really easy to get dumped with things other people don’t want to do and when looking for projects this can happen a lot. Your time is precious.
- Make a folder on your computer with all your certificates and evidence. You will lose certificates if you don’t do this. I keep mine on Google drive.
- If you do any teaching, make a google survey/survey monkey with a QR code. Having it on hand means that students can quickly give you feedback, which is great evidence to support your claim that you ‘love teaching and are a great teacher’. Saying ‘I have taught 57 students across a variety of settings who have given me excellent feedback’ has a bit more oomph.
- Procedures: if you do anything vaguely anaesthetics-related make sure it is recorded. This includes ultrasound cannulas, arterial lines, central lines and lumbar punctures. I used Horus to record these.
I hope these pointers are helpful for building an anaesthetics portfolio.
- Get to know the person specification
- Look for opportunities on MedProjectHub
- Concentrate on those easy to get points
- Be ruthlessly organised