This article lays out the guidance vis-à-vis my perspectives on how to approach the core training interview. Before we delve in, let’s do some background. I finished medical school in 2017 September, sat my PLAB 1 in March 2018, PLAB 2 in November 2018 and entered core training in Psychiatry with national rank 33 among nearly 100 applicants in Round 1 readvert. I am 25 years old and I’ll have 30 months of experience when I start my CT1 this August, with 4 months of UK Experience.
A brief overview of scoring
For the uninitiated, the scoring system is explained in the Specialty Recruitment Applicants Guide in detail. A total of 90 marks are available, of which:
- 1/3rd accounts for your SRA score
- 1/3rd accounts for your portfolio
- 1/3rd accounts for the clinical scenario
While portfolio accounts for 33%, the SRA in my opinion is not as easy as it appears. I scored 15/30 for my SRA. I started preparing for it a month after my PLAB 2 pass result. At the time, I was working in Critical Care while giving job interviews. I gave it in April 2019 for the round 1 readvert.
Thinking in retrospect, I’d advise people to give this exam undivided attention because if you’re in the top 10%, you get a by-pass score and therefore, don’t need to attend interviews and will get a direct offer.
There are multiple resources available to prep for this exam like E-medica, Mcqbank, passmedicine etc. Which question bank you use will depend on your own preference. Having said that, it’s best to master one and be thorough rather than dabble in many.
It’s advisable to take at least 3-4 mocks in the preceding two weeks before the exam. When you get your result, there will be a mean score of 200 +/- 50. I scored 430. In Psychiatry, they invite you to interview if you didn’t get above the bypass score. This score changes depending how everyone performs that year.
When to begin building your portfolio?
A portfolio is a summary of your progression so far. For my own portfolio, I scored 25/30. My personal take is that you should start building your portfolio/CV the moment you know where you want to be. For me, there’s no such thing as a portfolio because I did the things I did because I am genuinely interested and passionate about teaching, research and Psychiatry. So, please don’t do something for the sake of it.
To give you a brief, I had an audit, a few international and national conference presentations, an additional degree in Mental Health Education and some teaching. I started working on these things the moment I knew I’d do PLAB. While some of it was already achieved while in medical school, a lot of it was done in the last one year.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s find out how to organize ourselves. After speaking to seniors and a few consultants, I arranged my portfolio under the following sections:
- Additional Degrees
- Letters of Recommendation
The aforementioned list takes a lot of time and a great deal of effort, which is why I emphasize passion and planning beforehand.
It’s important to be organized because there’s points for organization. It may also be a good idea to invest in a file that has your name printed, for example- ’Dr X’s Portfolio’. You really want to make the best possible impression. I used one with a ring binder which had divisions with labels.
I started preparing for the interview one week before the day. I personally couldn’t give it more time as I started my first job in the UK a few days before the interview but having some UK Psychiatry experience does give you an edge and I would advise this as well.
I tried discussing things with my seniors. I scored 20/30. Since it gets published a few days in advance, it’s good to get hold of seniors and a consultant if possible and request them to practice with you. It’s testing your ability to communicate and approach, not so much your knowledge per se.
The scenario may vary next year. On my day, we were given a case of a patient who had a problem related to drinking. I tried to use an open ended question framework, establish rapport, questions about alcohol and psychiatric history. The tone, in Psychiatry needs to be empathetic rather than sympathetic. Additionally, listening skills are imperative. These are some things to bear in mind irrespective of what the scenario is.
I reached Manchester a day in advance and wore a suit. It’s important to present yourself well to the panel as it creates a good impression. The communication skills are those similar to PLAB 2 scenarios and it’d help to use those skills.
What if I don’t get training where I want?
Most IMG’s come to the UK with the dream of training at places like Cambridge, Oxford etc. I am one of them too.
I couldn’t get those places because it wasn’t round one (Round one which is in November has more than 450 available seats and the subsequent rounds have nearly 100 based on availability. New positions may or may not get added). You may or may not have the opportunity to apply in round one based on your circumstances.
People have several reasons to delay when they will start training but remember, the goal is to be a consultant as soon as you can. As long as you get into a good place which is supportive, has a good reputation and teaches well, it doesn’t make sense to leave it.Even more so, if it’s only a tag that’s missing.
P.S- I will be starting my training in the North West Deanery-Merseyside (Liverpool) commencing August 2019.
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