Specialty Training (including General Practice)
Once you have successfully completed the Foundation Programme you can then apply to train in a specialty of your choice. Training Programmes differ in length and structure according to the specialty. For example, full-time General Practice training lasts for three years whereas other specialties can last from five to eight years.
Training programmes are either referred to as:
- run-through - where you only need to apply once, for example General Practice and paediatrics OR
- uncoupled where you complete a core training programme and then apply for higher specialty training, for example cardiothoracic surgery
Please note: there is often more than one route into some specialties and sub-specialties.
Finding out about specialties
There are currently around 30 specialties and 60 sub-specialties in the UK. Therefore it’s never too early to find out about them.
One of the best ways to research a specialty is to spend time in it, and to spend time talking to doctors training and working in that field.
You will spend time in some of them during your medical degree and will get the opportunity in Clinical Phase 3 (CP3) to choose a specialty and location in which to do your Elective placement. In Clinical Phase 2 (CP2) you also have the chance to undertake a Specialist Study Module (SSM) where you can find out more about a particular specialty that interests you.
Outside of your clinical placements you will have the opportunity to talk to doctors from various specialties during careers fairs within the school (such as the one organised as part of the final year Careers Showcase) and at events organised by medical student societies.
How to choose a specialty
Your choice will depend on a number of internal and external factors. One approach is to the follow this four step model.
- Self-exploration – do you know what you want, what you are good at and what you enjoy?
- Option exploration – do you really know what options exist and is your information accurate or based on stereotypes?
- Decision-making – there may be several specialties which could make a good fit for you. Do you know how you make good decisions and what approach you will take this time?
- Implementation – having decided what to go for, how will you get there? What do you need to do before even applying?
There are some key questions to consider at the decision-making stage, based on your self-exploration and your research of options. These may assist you when trying to narrow down a short list of specialties.
- Do you think you have the required experience and skills for the specialty?
- Will the work interest you enough and provide enough job satisfaction?
- Do your core values fit with this type of work?
- Do your potential colleagues share your values?
- How will this specialty impact on your broader home life and how much of a factor is this for you?
- What kind of patients will you treat in this specialty?
- What does the training pathway involve?
- What changes do you envisage in the specialty over the course of your career, and how might that impact on you?
Once you have worked out what’s most important to you, you will have more key questions of your own.
For example, if patient contact, high salary or the opportunity to work part time are important to you, you will want to compare specialties from this perspective.
Top five tips from the BMA
The BMA offer the following top five tips for choosing a career.
- Research your options carefully and use all sources of career advice available
- Think about options that will suit your preferences and skills
- Think about options that will suit your lifestyle
- Don't rush into making a decision
- When considering posts ensure that the contract and the conditions of service are fully understood
Competition for specialties
One factor you may consider is the availability of specialty training posts and the competition for these places.
Every year the Foundation Programme Office produces an F2 Destination report. The report shows the number of places on each training programme in one year and the number of applications.
More information on choosing a specialty
Career planning for medicsPlanning your career - Health CareersRoyal Medical Benevolent Fund - choosing the specialty that's right for you
When to choose and apply to your specialty
If you wish to go straight from Foundation Training to Specialty Training, you will be required to apply for training programmes in November of your Foundation Year 2 (FY2).
You may decide to take time out between your Foundation Training and Specialty Training; informally known as Foundation Year 3 (FY3). If you decide to do this, you need to be aware of restrictions on how much time you can spend working in a specialty before applying to train in it in the UK.
With the exception of the GP programme, you cannot defer your place to Specialty Training.
Find out more about taking time out.
Specialty Training commences in August and December each year and applicants must have applied by November of the preceding year.
For example, doctors wishing to commence training in August 2021 must complete their applications by November 2020.
Key recruitment dates can be found in the Medical Specialty Recruitment Applicant Handbook.
Health Education England - Specialty Training
How to apply
Applicants complete an online application form and are usually invited to interview in December and January.
Interviews are in person (so bear this in mind if you are taking time out overseas). In most cases you will be expected to take with you an application portfolio (containing a CV) which demonstrates your suitability.
It is therefore helpful to start gaining and gathering evidence of the required experiences, skills and attributes for the specialty to which you are applying as soon as possible (particularly during Foundation Training but also in medical school).
CV and portfolio - advice and top tips
Applying for multiple specialties
You can apply for as many specialty training programmes as you like but there is a lot of work involved in each application and you may find it hard to convince an interview panel of your commitment to a specialty if you apply for too many.
In recent years around 70% of applicants applied to only one specialty, 20% applied to two specialties and 5% applied to three specialties. A small number of applicants each year apply to more than three specialties.
Completing Specialty Training overseas
If you are considering training in another country, you need to find out if:
- your UK Foundation Training is recognised by the country you want to train in
- you need to take any exams
- specialty training in that country would be recognised by the UK if you returned to work here
Doctors from European Economic Area (EEA) countries are entitled to registration in other EEA countries as long as they satisfy certain standard criteria.
Other countries outside of the EEA recognise UK training and take UK trained doctors onto their specialty training programmes.
For example, in Australia and New Zealand if you hold a primary medical qualification from the UK, you are eligible for registration without sitting any exams. However, each specialty college in these countries has different eligibility requirements. And, as with specialty training in the UK, some training programmes are more competitive than others.
Working and training abroad