Can you think of a moment in your life when you thought to yourself ‘I wish I knew about this when I started’. I did not think much about building my medical cv or portfolio until I graduated. I went to a talk about the requirements for applications post-foundation years and realised how few of those boxes I ticked. During medical school, I had taken part in extra-curricular activities, such as attending conferences, delivering teaching, etc., purely based on my interest. But I never thought I would one day need to show those certificates in order to get a job. As you can imagine, this made my foundation years very stressful (as if having a global pandemic wasn’t enough). I can’t go back and change my path, but maybe I can change yours.
Some things take a long time
Did you know having a publication gives you points both for foundation programme and for almost every speciality training further than the line? How long do you think it will take to get something published? It could take years!
This is not exaggerating. Many of the projects you get involved in would never be published. Whether it is because the results were not interesting enough or someone else has published it before you, or so many other reasons. So it will take a long time and a little bit of luck to find the right project. Various steps such as ethical approval, peer review and finding a journal could take a very long time. But you never know until you try. So find something you are interested in and email the academics or clinicians to see if you could get involved with their projects. You might have to start with tasks such as data collection, but you need to start somewhere.
You will have to climb some ladders
Whether it is research or leadership, or teaching, you can’t expect to be given huge responsibilities right at the beginning. Are you looking to build your leadership experience? The easiest way of getting on the leadership ladder is by starting to attend a medical school society that interests you. Get to know the committee members, attend their events regularly and explain to them why you are passionate about that society. By the time it gets to the end of your year, the committee positions will open up, and you could put yourself forward as a candidate to join the committee. That there is the first rung of the ladder which you managed to get yourself on. You will then need to learn from that leadership position and use that as a launching pad to apply and represent societies outside your medical school. Do a good job at a regional leadership position, and you could propel further to apply for national positions. Before you know it, you are helping large organisations make decisions to improve things like students welfare or improving the medical curriculum. Not only you are making an impact on the world that you are living in, but you also have three leadership positions on your CV.
Everyone has passed their exams
The advice I was given was to only focus on passing your medical school exams. That is the only thing that is standing between you and becoming a doctor. Having been through the process, I completely disagree with this advice. Everyone else who will be applying for speciality training would have passed their finals. There are always more candidates to training places available; you cannot change that. There are some additional points for passing with flying colours, but not that many more! So doing those extra-curricular activities will help you do what you love.
You don’t need to know what you want to do
My advice is to start from the first year of medical school. Don’t go crazy! But start looking for research opportunities, committee positions etc, even if you don’t know what you want to end up doing! The majority of points you are scored on are the same across different specialities. Having publications or teaching experience will benefit you regardless of whether you want to do medicine, surgery, anaesthetics, radiology etc.
Not many people know what they want to do even after completing the foundation programme. Some people will go through speciality training before deciding that this was a wrong decision for them. But knowing what you want to know does not matter! What matters is you are attaining various experiences which are going to make you a great candidate for any speciality. Start easy with aiming to do one extra thing every year during your time at medical school. This doesn’t need to be related to the speciality you end up in. As you progress through the years, you might have a better idea. This is the point where you try to make sure you do your extra-curricular activities in the field that you are considering. This might make you fall in love with it more or end up hating it. Either way, you’ve added to your CV and have not lost anything.
Location will matter more
At the beginning of medical school, you might not think much about where you go next, why should you? You are guaranteed to be there for 5 or 6 years. But as you start approaching the end of medical school, you might feel ready to leave. Or the opposite, you love the city so much you can’t think of anywhere else you would like to live. Other reasons might also influence your choice of location, money, family, partner, etc. Having a strong CV will give you more say in the matter, putting you in the driving seat.
This is by no means is trying to encourage you to become outcome-focused, career hungry students or doctors with no social life. I’m trying to tell you the opposite, the more you do, the more freedom you will have to enjoy the aspects of life and work that really matters to you. It is very easy to do one extra thing every year during your time at medical school. This way, by the time you reach your final year, you have 5 or 6 useful points on your portfolio. Equally, don’t forget to enjoy your university days. You’ll make friends for life, you meet people from all backgrounds, and gain experiences that you otherwise won’t have the chance to. It’s all about getting that balance right!