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Gaining Skills for Surgical Posts

When you apply for any post in surgery, at both the application and selection centre/interview stage you will be asked to demonstrate that you have achieved certain competencies. These will include specialty-specific knowledge and skills but also more general career-based skills. Read on for an overview of these skills and how you can demonstrate them. 

Clinical competencies 

If you are applying for a post early in your career at a level similar to the core training years, you need to demonstrate that you have achieved the foundation year 2 competencies. These are listed on the foundation programme website.

When applying for posts, you will need to demonstrate that you have completed the competencies for the level below that to which you are applying. You will find core competencies outlined on the ISCP website.

Additional competencies

In addition to specialty-specific clinical skills, technical skills and knowledge, and professional integrity, you will require the following:

  • Good communication
  • Leadership 
  • Team involvement
  • Judgement under pressure
  • Decision-making
  • Problem solving

You will acquire these from your portfolio development activities as well as your daily working and private life. Do not limit yourself solely to work situations

View the required competencies for surgical training in more detail.

Enhance your surgical portfolio

There are many activities that can boost your skills, show your commitment to surgery and make your portfolio stand out, such as:

  • attend courses
  • attend conferences, seminars, etc
  • make presentations at conferences, seminars, etc
  • join or organise a journal club
  • join and participate in relevant associations
  • undertake self-directed learning
  • teach and/or demonstrate (anatomy demonstration posts are
  • particularly useful)
  • research
  • write letters, articles, reports, etc for publication
  • audit projects
  • work in alternative environments, eg electives at medical school
  • join and participate in your medical school surgical society
  • choose surgically-focused options at medical school


You can gain teaching experience in formal posts but these can be difficult to obtain and to fit into the rest of your career. You can also volunteer to teach practical skills at your university surgical society. Alternatively, you could organise events at local schools to inspire pupils into pursuing a career in medicine. 

Approach senior colleagues

Senior colleagues may allow you to observe or assist in theatre, undertake audit or research projects or sit in on clinics. As long as you are willing to commit to the task or project they assign, and do not expect them to supervise you too closely, most consultants and other senior staff will be eager to assist you. Be proactive – they cannot offer help if you do not approach them (but avoid pestering them if they decline).  

Study leave

During your foundation programme and core training you will also have access to study leave to develop competencies and specific skills. Some of this time will involve taught sessions through the Foundation School and Schools of Surgery. At foundation level, this equates to a minimum of three hours a week but may be aggregated to seven whole days depending on your location. At core training and above the specific time available depends on your location.

ST3 and beyond

The advent of Modernising Medical Careers has meant that formal research in the form of a higher degree or postgraduate project is no longer a requirement for entry to ST3. However, many candidates choose to undertake some between Core Training and ST3. Alternatively, you may wish to undertake some research as an Out Of Programme experience once you are in ST3.

Keep records and evidence of activities

Whatever activities you undertake, ensure you keep a record of them and store related correspondence, certificates, confirmations of attendance etc. You will find it difficult to compile your portfolio and write your application forms otherwise. If you have worked with a clinician outside the normal teaching programme, ask for a letter of support.

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