Updated: Aug 7, 2022
Building Your Medical Portfolio
by Colette McCambridge
During my time at medical school I was very confused as to why I was being bribed with the promise of a certificate. Why would I want a certificate? Was I back at school? It took me a while and many binned certificates later to realise this was for my portfolio. Trying to build a portfolio at university should not be top of your priorities but getting evidence for things that you are doing anyway definitely should be (and maybe buying a folder to keep your certificates…)
If you are one of the few people during medical school that know exactly what you want to specialise in, then perhaps you will find building up a portfolio with some focus a little easier. However, if you, like me, had no idea what you want to do, it might seem like a daunting task to build up a portfolio. The good news is, no matter what you are applying for, although the amount of points you might gain in an area may differ, the categories are generally the same: undergraduate, postgraduate, commitment to speciality, audit/QI and research, teaching, publications/presentations and leadership and activities outside medicine.
All of these subheadings might sound quite dull but the trick is to get gain points for things you enjoy and would be doing anyways. Whilst at University rather than doing things for “the points”, try to get the points out of things you enjoy. For example, if you are in a sports team or music society, why not be in the committee - not only are you then able to get involved and contribute to your society, you are demonstrating leadership skills which are a key area in your applications and with hundreds of societies at university an easy one to tick off. If you are reading this and have already qualified, it is not too late –the mess committee is an easy and fun way show leadership and organisation skills whilst socialising with your friends.
Joining a society in a speciality you are interested in can be useful in multiple ways: you are showing commitment to speciality, leadership (if you are a committee member) and most importantly you can network with people that want to do the same thing as you and will almost certainly have lots of invaluable wisdom they will happily pass on.
During your time at medical school, you may have the option to do an intercalated degree, this is a year taken out of your medical degree to study an area of interest. There are loads of different options available and you may also have the option of studying abroad or at a different university. Many people do this to have the opportunity to experience University life outside medical school as well as gaining other skills such as research. Intercalation may come with publication and conference opportunities as well as gaining you points in Foundation year and Speciality applications. Intercalation is certainly not a holiday and you will be expected to do a dissertation in most degrees so should be given lots of thought before committing to a whole year as there are plenty of other ways to gain points if that is your concern!
Electives are a mandatory component of your medical degree and come with a wealth of opportunities. If you are interested in a specific area of medicine for example pre-hospital medicine, why not see if you can get some experience with an air ambulance crew. Not only is this amazing experience to see if you enjoy the career but can potentially gain you points too- many universities have contacts and grants available for students and may be able to help guide you on how to arrange these.
If you have even considered your portfolio whilst at university you will be miles ahead of most people, but once you start work as an F1 this is more of a focus, with speciality applications opening in Autumn of F2 (if you decide not to have an F3, F4 etc). There are certain requirements you must meet in order to pass each year such as teaching and audit/ quality improvement projects. These can also be used for your speciality applications (winner).
Audits and Quality Improvement Projects are essential for speciality applications. To maximise your points and minimise stress it is best to choose a straightforward achievable project so that you can increase the number of cycles of the audit and increase points (Yes –more cycles equals more points). Don’t feel like you have to do these projects alone, it will be far easier in a small group and pick people that you enjoy working with or who make good coffee.
All speciality applications love teaching, the more teaching you have the more impressed they will be! Make sure that you have feedback from each of your teaching sessions, no matter what the setting, so that you can reflect on your performance and know which areas to improve in the future.
Finally, as part of your Foundation Programme you will have the opportunity to attend taster days to experience a speciality that you have not worked in before to help guide career choice. Many people choose to do these in more specialist areas such as ICU, sexual health or pathology but they can be done in anything- your educational supervisor may be able to help you organise these. Best of all, taster days can get you easy portfolio points, but remember if you haven’t got evidence then it did not happen!
· Buy yourself a folder so that you have one place to put any certificates that you will collect throughout university and foundation training (you will thank yourself later.)
· Evidence evidence evidence –unfortunately if you cannot evidence something (certificate, letters or feedback) then it did not happen. Before leaving university ensure that if you have any form of evidence on your student email that could be used in your portfolio, make sure you have them downloaded and saved as you will not have access to your email when you have graduated.
· Print out Self scoring criteria for the speciality you wish to apply for and then you have something to work towards and it is easy to identify gaps in your portfolio.
Finally do not panic, medicine is a game of hoop jumping and you will become experts at playing the game!