How to optimise your portfolio
For someone looking to apply for specialty training in the UK, the portfolio will play a huge role in influencing your chances of securing a post. Other important factors can include any exams e.g. the Multi-Specialty Recruitment Assessment (MSRA) and interview performance. However, the portfolio aspect often requires more planning as many aspects of the portfolio take a longer timeframe to set up and accomplish compared to preparing for an exam or interview. With how most specialties set up the scoring criteria, how specific each tier within each domain is also makes it easy to predict how many points you can obtain even before submitting your application form. Here we share several ways to plan in advance and achieve the maximum number of points for your portfolio.
Whilst not necessarily true for every specialty, you are almost always rewarded for starting to set yourself up at an earlier stage than later. For example, neurosurgery awards approximately 20% of portfolio points to undergraduate achievements such as prizes, extra degree, undergraduate publications and quality improvement. Therefore if you have missed the train during your medical school years, there are parts of the portfolio where you can't get points for no matter how much effort you put in. There are also projects such as publications and closed-loop audit cycles where you will need to invest months into. Sometimes these are also part of the process which can't be shortened just by you being efficient, particularly awaiting the peer review process for publications, where you simply have to wait for a reply. Preparing early will ensure you will get everything ready for application (if self-scoring) or interview.
Read the portfolio scoring and person specification
The person specification is a document that outlines key traits the recruiters are looking for in a candidate. This page here has links to the person specification for all specialties offered by Health Education England. The portfolio scoring are sometimes published (for example the ones for Internal Medicine Training (IMT) and Core Surgical Training (CST) , but you can also speak to your predecessors to find out how many points each achievement amounts to (although bear in mind minor changes may happen between application cycles). This gives you an idea for how to allocate your time and effort in order to achieve the maximum amount of points, helping you plan in advance.
Be strategic with your projects
As with the above point, you have limited time to 'tick the boxes' in the scoring criteria. There are a few things you can do to get the most out of your efforts. The main thing is to try and tick as many boxes with a single project. Doing an audit on compliance with VTE by itself is great and all, but if you also deliver teaching to junior doctors as part of the improvement cycle, that will give you points for both the audit and teaching domains. You should then go on to submit the closed loop results to a conference which would score you even more points. Depending on how strict the recruiters are, poster submissions to conferences that are archived and published on their site/as part of the conference proceedings may also count for publication points. For audits that either a) are on a novel topic and you defined new methods to evaluate local compliance or b) have managed to improve compliance significantly, it is sometimes worthwhile to write it up as an article to be submitted to quality improvement journals. Alternatively, depending on the specific type of audit and outcome measures collected, you may be able to analyse the results as a retrospective cohort study, ticking the research box. Furthermore, if the overarching topic is related to your specialty of choice, it will help sell yourself as being committed to the specialty.
Also think about the cost effectiveness of the projects you participate in. Would spending several thousand pounds and a year of completing assignments for a PGCert be worth an extra point over signing up for a week-long teaching course? Perhaps you could look at other aspects of your portfolio instead. A balanced portfolio is often more useful than being an overachiever in a single domain, since most criteria has an upper limit, e.g. 20 publications giving the same points as 2.
Evidence your achievements
Every time you complete a project, think about how you are able to evidence this in your application form or during interview. You don't necessarily always need certificates for everything. You could use presentation slides to evidence an audit presentation, a supervisor letter for a taster week or feedback forms for a teaching session. It is almost certainly easier to collect it soon after finishing something than scrambling to gather all of them close to your application deadline. If you can't show that you have done something, then you have NOT done it.
You need to be proactively engaged with your projects. Adhere to agreed deadlines, respond to emails promptly, chase up responses if they are long overdue and regularly keep in touch with mentors you work very well with. Take charge of your own project rather than waiting for your supervisor to walk you through every single step of the process.
The caveat to all the above is that you should also try to do what you enjoy. There needs to be a clear distinction between being goal-focused, and being forced to tick boxes. There is also a lot to gain without thinking about points all the time. You will make connections with people in the field simply by participating in projects and showing your passion, even it is on something that won't give you extra points.
What other advice would you give to someone looking to improve their portfolio? Comment down below.