Updated: Aug 7, 2022
Have you considered SFP (the new AFP)? Are you thinking to yourself what even is SFP? If the answer to either of these questions is yes then I hope this blog will be useful for you. I am writing this on my first ‘academic day’ of my F1 year, and I hope to both inspire and inform to persuade you why applying for this training position is a great idea.
SFP, or Specialised Foundation Programme, which used to be known as the Academic Foundation Programme (or AFP), is an equivalent to the normal Foundation Programme (FP) that you will enter in the UK when you graduate medical school. This is where you start your life as a junior doctor; completing your F1 and F2 years. The only difference with the SFP is you get dedicated time (paid like a clinical day!) for academic work within your contract and training. In most of England, this works as a whole 4-month rotation in your F2 year, allowing you to complete or get involved with a big research project. In Wales, and some areas in England, the academic component of the training comes in the form of ‘day release’ i.e. you have the equivalent of ~1-2 days per week for your academic work. Also, as Wales has an unpaired FP, i.e. you will have to apply for your F2 jobs in F1 rather than getting them all at once, you can decide to just have an academic F1 year or in both your F1 and F2 year, which would mean even more academic time than your English counterparts.
When I say academic work, you are probably thinking, what does that involve? Well, the great thing about SFP in Wales is that there is a lot of flexibility of what you can do with your time. There are three fundamental aims for this work: research, education and leadership, and you can decide to do things under any or all 3 of these aims. For example, under ‘research’ you may decide to plan a large or multiple smaller projects which may or may not be relating to the rotation you are on. This can come in the form of a Quality Improvement (QI) project, service evaluation, audit or primary research that is being conducted in the department. Under ‘education’ you could get involved with the local medical education hub and deliver some face to face sessions, or use zoom and Microsoft teams to organise an online teaching series for your peers or medical students. Under ‘leadership’ you could consider starting up a society, undertaking some leadership training, or volunteering as a representative for various committees. These are just a few examples – with SFP in Wales that you have the time and freedom to explore what interests and excites you when you take your academic days.
The big caveat for applying for SFP in Wales is the fact that, well, you can’t actually apply for it; it’s not a separate application like with other SFPs. You will have to apply to Wales as a deanery on the normal FP application, and only once you have been allocated that deanery can you apply for these roles.
There are pro and cons to completing an SFP in Wales and I have outlined these in the table below:
If you are interested in SFP elsewhere, please be prepared that is will involve an extra application with White Space Questions (an equivalent of a personal statement) and an interview. Resources for these can be found here:
* White space questions (sort of like a personal statement): https://blog.medics.academy/white-space-questions/
* Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5PulPlCHXw (there is a 5-part series attached to this YouTube video, please be mindful that for Wales there is no academic paper for you to interpret, just 3 personal questions and 3 clinical scenarios which you should tackle like an ISCE/OSCE station – i.e. ABCDE!)
* Information on SFP: https://heiw.nhs.wales/education-and-training/foundation/foundation-recruitment/academic-f1-recruitment/ (Wales specific) https://foundationprogramme.nhs.uk/programmes/2-year-foundation-programme/academic-training/ (UKFPO website)
I would like to take a moment to say that although applying for an SFP can be competitive, please don’t let it put you off trying. You may envisage that your competitors all have lots of presentations, publications and prizes already under their belt from medical school, meaning they score more points on the application. I personally had none of these yet was still offered the position.
For those interested in SFP elsewhere, I hope I have emphasised that you will have to complete a separate application. If it doesn’t go to plan, and you do not get an offer, then you will still go through the normal foundation programme process so there is never any harm in applying if you are interested. Please be aware, if you are offered an SFP and you decide to accept (which must be done within 48hrs from receiving an offer), only then are you withdrawn from the FP programme.
My advice is keep an eye on the UKFPO and Higher education in Wales (HEIW) websites as things get updated throughout the year. Things seem to be constantly changing and the switch to this method of SFP allocation is new for 2021/22, so may change again in the near future.
Having only just started my academic F1 year, I am yet to know exactly what I am going to do. I have a few plans, and thanks to speaking to all of my supervisors for the year early on, I have some ideas from them about what I can get involved with in each rotation. If you do decide to apply to Wales and opt for an SFP post, my advice is start planning what you would like to do early on, so you can hit the ground running when you start work, and if you can, speak to your predecessors for their advice on how to make the most out of each rotation. Also, don’t compare yourself to others and what they do with their academic time. You are all individuals and the beauty of doing the SFP in Wales is that they are generally very supportive for you to follow your passions as long as it relates to the three aims - and if you have no idea what your passion is, speak to your supervisor who will have ideas and projects that you can adopt.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at:
Dion-Emily.Manning@wales.nhs.uk. I am always eager to help and support as much as I can!
By Dr Dion Manning, Academic F1, Cardiff
Respiratory Medicine, Paediatrics and ICU.