This post is adapted from a blog post that I wrote for the Association of International Medics UK (AIM UK).
In Medicine, people seem to go on about how certain things such as research and teaching will benefit your portfolio, but what exactly is a portfolio and why should you care about it?
What Is a Portfolio?
A medical portfolio is a record of the evidence supporting your “personal and professional skills, knowledge, and competencies” (1). It provides more detail about the contents of your CV, acting as a visual representation of the items in your CV.
Prior to the pandemic, a lot of interviews for specialty training/academic programmes required physical portfolios (binders filled with required evidence) but these days most applications will ask candidates to perform a self-assessment of their portfolio, then upload relevant evidence to justify why they have given themselves a certain score in a domain.
Why Do Portfolios Matter?
As a medical student, the portfolio is probably most important in terms of future job applications, but it is also used in revalidation and relicensing (2). Postgraduate training programmes can be very competitive to enter, so by maximising the scores you can get for your portfolio, you are increasing your chances of a successful application.
I’ve had doctors tell me before that it’s a lot easier to win prizes and develop your portfolio as a medical student for various reasons:
There are a lot of medical student prizes out there and the competition for these is generally not as fierce as those for doctors.
You probably have more time on your hands as a medical student! That’s hard to believe but it’s actually quite true.
What Can Count Towards a Portfolio?
The specific things that count towards a portfolio will depend on the specific programme you are applying to. For example, surgery-specific items e.g. the amount of surgical and operative experience you have count towards the “Commitment to Specialty” domain in Core Surgical Training portfolios (3).
I also know that the application to join specialty training in certain surgical specialties requires that your publications are in that specific area. However, most applications accept any Medicine-related work - the best thing to do is to check the requirements for the specific programme you are interested in.
The general areas that would typically count towards a portfolio are:
Additional degrees - note that additional degrees do not count towards the normal Foundation Programme and Core Surgical Training applications starting 2023 but they may still count towards other applications.
Presentations (oral and poster)
Teaching and Training in Teaching
To score maximum points on a domain, specific conditions have to be met - these will be detailed in the guidance provided for self-assessment. These change every year so it is important that you take note of that.
How to Start Working on Your Portfolio Now
A lot of medical students (including myself) are now starting to work on their portfolios at an earlier stage because of how competitive applications can get. While I don’t agree with this overall phenomenon (I could write a whole blog post talking about this), it is important not to disadvantage yourself, especially if you have an interest in a specific programme and already have the opportunity to tick off some of these boxes.
Find out what you need to improve your portfolio. Are there any areas in which you do not have experience that would count towards points in a specific domain? As medical students it is quite straightforward to start working towards points in the prizes, publications, and presentations domains because most of us get research assignments embedded in our curriculum which can be taken further upon completion.
Start working on things targeted towards any areas/programmes of interest. It is probably easiest to start with Core Surgical Training or Internal Medicine Training depending on your interests. I didn't find one for GP training based on my research, please correct me if I’m wrong!
It is not only important to start gaining these experiences now, but also to get evidence of it! It would be easier to get the evidence when the experience is recent. An example might be a letter from an organisation detailing your involvement with them for a leadership role or a copy of a conference leaflet/schedule with you listed as a presenter. I would recommend keeping a folder on your computer with all the evidence and a document listing all potential pieces of experience that can be included in your future applications so you don’t lose track of things.
The specific criteria and number of points you can score in a domain may vary from year to year but the self-assessment criteria can act as a good point of reference - these can be found freely on the Internet.
If you enjoyed reading this post, make sure to visit AIM UK’s website where you can hear directly from medical students who have had experience doing research, winning prizes, teaching, and more!
1. Douglas H, West C. Creating a good portfolio. BMJ [Internet]. 2009 [cited 23 December 2022];:b811. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/338/bmj.b811
2. Developing your portfolio [Internet]. Health Careers. 2022 [cited 23 December 2022]. Available from: https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/career-planning/developing-your-health-career/developing-your-portfolio
3. 2023 Core Surgical Training Self-Assessment Scoring Guidance for Candidates [Internet]. NHS choices. NHS; [cited 2022Dec23]. Available from: https://medical.hee.nhs.uk/medical-training-recruitment/medical-specialty-training/surgery/core-surgery/core-surgical-training-self-assessment-scoring-guidance-for-candidates