Updated: Jan 3, 2021
By Dr Aishwarya Nambiar
When I first heard about the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP), it was at the start of my final year in Medical School. This was a small line at the end of a talk about the Foundation Programme Application System (FPAS) and the Situational Judgement Test (SJT) which briefly mentioned that the AFP doesn’t just include research. I had no idea there was another option that a) allowed dedicated time towards pursuing project ideas and b) avoided the competitive environment of decile rankings and luck.
Initially, I felt it was too late to consider this option. Especially when I was asking around, those ‘top of the year’ geared for AFP had already compiled their portfolio with many publications to their name. I also got the impression the AFP were only aimed for those at Oxbridge or in London. However, medical education had always been appealing to me and peer teaching was something I had constantly been involved in. I gave it a shot and was very grateful that I made this decision.
Here’s a few reasons to consider the application:
1. There is no harm in applying!
Never feel you are underqualified. It is another type of application that involves a brief series of questions (white space questions – more on this later) and an interview. This process doesn’t stop you from working as a doctor – you will inevitably work as a foundation doctor regardless.
Secondly, it gives you interview experience. Having done only med school interviews, trainee applications seem like a long way off after graduation – getting the exposure for the interview process again is useful.
2. There are different types of AFP:
Research jobs have the most posts available, then comes education and lastly leadership. Find the area/field you are most likely going to pursue a project in before applying as the allocated time will enable you to carry this out.
3. You have more freedom in choosing the job whilst applying
When submitting the application, you rank the jobs with it. You are able to choose the location and see the rotations they provide within each deanery; this helps narrow down specifically why you want that job.
4. AFPs are structured differently
Make sure you understand how the academic side is incorporated into the job. Some dedicate a whole 4-month rotation for this and others treat it as ‘part-time’, with allocated academic days throughout the year.
You are affiliated with a university which helps provide many opportunities, not only for your project but also the chance to meet other academics and get involved with other work you find yourself interested in. Some programmes even fund a PGCert within the foundation years!
Whilst this may give you an idea of why AFP is an option to go for, it can still be daunting to know what the application actually involves:
1. White space questions and interviews
You can apply up to 2 deaneries – each one has a different set of white space questions (each with a 200 word limit) that will ask how and why you are suited to the programme. This can be specific to the job they offer, or vague, allowing you to showcase activities within or outside of medicine.
The interview depends on the type of AFP you are applying for: research jobs tend to involve appraising literature as well asking how your role is suited for the programme. Others may simply enquire about your project plan and how it can be implemented. Most importantly, understand how the university is involved and read the prospectus with any qualifications they may fund.
If you have a chance to speak to anyone currently on the programme, this would be the best insight into the job role.
2. Points for prizes, degrees and publications
The application itself has a point system for any prizes, presentations and publications you may have as well previous degrees (intercalated or undergraduate). Don’t let this put you off however! I was very close to disregarding my application altogether at this point because I didn’t have any publications to my name, neither did I intercalate. My tip would be: Just apply.
If you are nearing the end of medical school, compile your evidence and opportunities you were involved in and start thinking about a potential project idea you would want to expand on when working.
If you know about this option earlier, I would recommend finding a mentor that can guide you and most importantly enable opportunities that you can become involved in earlier on.
I would encourage you to submit any project you have been working on – even audits during clinical placement years. Even if it’s not accepted, they provide great constructive feedback to improve further.
Lastly, if you have an interest in academia, the AFP does not limit your chances to explore this field or diminish the possibility to apply for an academic post later on in training. The advantage of the programme is the dedicated time for academic pursuits, however plenty of foundation doctors have managed to build up their CV in other ways, even receiving grants for an available PGCert. Thank you for reading and I hope this brief summary provides some useful information on the Academic Foundation Programme!