London Med Student

Unconvinced by foundation years entry process

So I recently completed the first challenge that every final year medical student faces – that of the Foundation Programme Application System (FPAS). It’s a national system, that lets every single final year medical student in the UK apply for jobs at the same time. It’s a bit hard to explain, but basically we all get marks (up to 100) that we are ranked by nationally, and the top people get their top choice of area (and then within that, top choice of job). The medical school gives us up to 50 marks for academic achievement (including papers and other degrees) and up to 50 come from the new SJT exam.

I have mixed feelings about FPAS. On the one hand, I’m very pleased that I only have to do one job application, and then everything else is sorted automatically for me. There’s a guarantee that as long as I’m not one of the worst medical students in the UK, I will get a job, somewhere. The first part is a simple online form – unless you want to do the academic placements you don’t need to write anything original. (Although I’ve already expressed my displeasure that I have nowhere to mention all the extra-curriculars I’ve devoted a lot of my time at med school to doing.)

On the other hand, the idea that I can be sent somewhere fairly random in the UK is a bit frightening. I know ultimately where I’d like to work, but before I can focus on applying to my chosen area I have to do these two foundation years which may be somewhere very different. For those of us who want to work in London, even getting into a London ‘unit of application’ (there are 4) isn’t a guarantee as the areas are far-ranging and you could end up working in a small hospital a few hours away from the city – you know, somewhere like Brighton or Chichester.

My attempt at ranking areas of the UK was not helped by my limited knowledge of geography… My super-scientific and meticulous methods for deciding where I’d like to live in for the next two years included such considerations as: cities I once went to for a weekend that seemed nice; anywhere that I have family/friends; places I’ve never heard of, or that sounded boring; and keeping well clear of where my ex’s parents live. It’s hard to make life plans when I don’t know where I’ll be until next March.

You have to think carefully about what you let affect your choices – for example, is it worth me focussing my application on London to stay with my partner of under a year?

My FPAS form is done and my final hurdle now is the Situational Judgement Test in December. Despite being told that this is a test of “professional values” that you “can’t revise for”, students are enrolling on revision courses, taking online practise tests and buying books of practise questions written by experts (my flat is actually having trouble getting hold of some of the books as they are sold out on Amazon).

You can’t blame us as we’re vastly academic creatures and the questions are perplexing to say the least – a multiple choice exam ranking responses to situations that are often similarly valid and you could argue a decent justification for more than one answer. After all, isn’t that what you’d do in clinical practice – be prepared to justify your decisions?

I’m not convinced this exam is a valid way of ranking us, but rank us it will … and that’s why the books are sold out.

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2 Responses to “Unconvinced by foundation years entry process”

  1. Brighton Medical Student says:

    Scary stuff the old SJT. I feel your pain.

    The hospital in Brighton isn’t small by the way.

  2. V says:

    Good luck for the results of your SJT. I’m an intercalating-in-London non-London-medic and, to back up your point, I have already started looking at SJT questions from friends’ books and looking at the free ‘question of the day’ that some websites give out… (!!) If that isn’t a crazy obsession to turn this into another academic feat, I don’t know what is. When they say these things don’t need to be revised for, I think they are talking utter nonsense. I don’t know why they do it, it’s not even like it’s politically correct to say that so why the hell do they say it. Particularly because there are some things that the GMC is VERY clear on what the correct protocol for such conflicting situations are, and if you didn’t bother to go over them because ‘it’s not a test that can be revised for’, it will be your own loss and no one else’s.

    Maybe they are trying to justify the new system of FPAS, rather than the old interview/essay format with the Qs. I find it extremely puzzling that this silly SJT (which, like you said, people can have different takes on what they feel is the right course of action, and both can still be correct, if, like you said, justified well) is actually worth MORE than your entire medical degree (10 marks on FPAS, if I recall correctly?)

    I wish we had more of a solid, structured America’s USMLE-type entrance for foundation/specialty training. It makes FAR more sense to see how much of core medical knowledge the students have gained from their years at med school, and assess them based on that, rather than their answers to common-sense ethical-competency questions. But of course, that would be so much more work and money.

    I actually stumbled on this blog whilst doing a Google search about Foundation Years. Is it necessary for us to complete F2, to get the GMC certification, do you know? From what I read, you get your GMC registration after F1 (you get a provisional one at the beginning of F1 and once you’ve completed the duties of F1, then you get the GMC registration, as far as I am aware?)… so what is the purpose of F2 (from a training purpose, I mean… I am guessing a tiny part of it is to create more doctors to ‘pick up the scutwork’ to save NHS costs?) do you know?

    Thanks and all the best. 🙂

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