How To Ace Your 2023 Annual Medical Appraisal As A Locum Doctor
Facing an appraisal can be scary for doctors, particularly when it is your first one. We hope that with a bit of information and support, you’ll find the appraisal process straightforward and (dare we say it…) enjoyable!
Acing a medical appraisal is really not as hard as it sounds. It requires much less work than your ARCP, and the majority of the stress around appraisals comes from confusion about what it is, misunderstanding about what is required of you, and a lack of support and guidance to help you find answers.
In this article, we will give you our top tips on how to ace your annual medical appraisal.
🖥 Step 1: Establish the basics
Do I need to do an appraisal?
The GMC says: While most non-training doctors do need an annual appraisal, there are certain circumstances where an appraisal is not required. You can read more information about whether or not you need to do an appraisal in our article ‘Do I need an appraisal as an F3 or locum doctor?’
In reality: Some F3 doctors choose not to do an appraisal in their F3 year if they are planning to return to training after only one year out. However, it is important to note that this is a risky decision as it can have consequences regarding revalidation, so we don’t recommend it.
Who would my appraiser be?
If you do need an appraisal, then your next step is to get allocated an appraiser. Do this as soon as possible because much appraisal stress occurs when doctors try and arrange it all at the last minute.
The first step is to find out who your designated body is and to contact their Responsible Officer (RO) who will allocate you an appraiser. We go into detail about how to do this in our article ‘Do I need an appraisal as an F3 or locum doctor’ as well as what to do if you do not have a designated body.
What appraisal format would I be following?
Depending on where you are in the UK, there are different pathways for appraisal:
👉 Medical Appraisal Guide (MAG) for England
👉 Medical Appraisal Revalidation System (MARS) for Wales
👉 Scottish Online Appraisal Resource (SOAR) for Scotland
👉 Health-NI for Northern Ireland
Once you know which pathway you’re on, we highly recommend that you open the relevant appraisal document on your computer ASAP. This may sound straightforward, but it can be a major source of stress when tech doesn't work the way you want it to.
The MAG requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to open which can be a pain if you don’t have it already installed on your computer. Even once you have installed it, you may have trouble opening your MAG if it is not your default reader for PDF documents.
If you are struggling, follow these steps:
👉 Download and save a blank PDF copy of the MAG form. Don’t open it.
👉 Download and open Adobe Acrobat Reader
👉 From Adobe Acrobat reader click file > open > and select the blank MAG form.
👉 If you try to open the MAG simply by double clicking it, your computer may try to open it as a regular PDF which won’t work.
✅ Step 2: Preparing properly
Reduce the amount of work you need to do for appraisal, and minimise any last-minute stress of preparing for the meeting by doing the following:
Book your appraisal dates to guarantee success
Once you have an appraiser allocated, book your appraisal date right away.
We advise scheduling two appraisal meetings at least two weeks apart, especially if this is your first appraisal. If you are an F3, your meeting should take place around the summertime, but if are a non-trainee of another grade (i.e. F4) and you skipped an appraisal last year, then your meeting may need to be much sooner.
Having two meetings booked in means you can use the first meeting to ask questions, get advice on your appraisal evidence, or as a first-attempt appraisal. If all goes well, then you can have your appraisal signed off there and then, but if your appraiser feels you need more time to collect additional evidence, then you have time to make any necessary changes before your backup meeting takes place.
Overall, having two meetings allows you to have a plan B and allows you to prepare and present your best work. In the best-case scenario, you get it all right the first time and then have a free afternoon two weeks later to be smug.
We go into more detail about how to upload your appraisal evidence to the MAG form in our Portfolio Companion - a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about medical portfolios and appraisals. Click on each sub-section to learn how the portfolio evidence should be uploaded to your MAG form.
Understand your appraisal requirements to reduce stress
You’d be amazed at how many people attend their appraisal meetings, not knowing what to expect on the day. Appraisal meetings require quite a bit of prep work, and you have to bring a number of key pieces of information with you on the day. In fact, many appraisers will ask you to submit your completed appraisal document up to 2 weeks before the meeting date.
Understanding from the beginning what will be required of you at the end of the year means that you have plenty of time to prepare what you need to so you don’t have that frantic feeling in the last weeks before your appraisal.
The purpose of your appraisal is to demonstrate your commitment to being the doctor that is described in the GMC’s Good Medical Practice (GMP) document. In order to do this, you have to provide evidence to your appraiser of your commitment to the GMP principles. The GMC specifically requests some evidence that you must bring to the appraisal meeting, which is:
👉 Continuous Professional Development
👉 Quality Improvement Activity
👉 Significant Events or Serious Incidents
👉 Feedback From Patients and Colleagues
👉 Compliments And Complaints
👉 Probity and Health Statements
We have written in detail about appraisal requirements here.
To ace your appraisal, we recommend understanding in advance what evidence is required of you at your appraisal and making a plan at the start of the year to ensure that you will be able to provide the necessary evidence by the time of your appraisal.
📝 Step 3: Use the best tools to reduce your workload
If you have followed the above steps, then all that is left to do is to collect the necessary evidence to ace your appraisal meeting.
Much of the stress around appraisals and reluctance to engage with the appraisal process is because it often involves a last-minute rush to gather your evidence.
Gathering last-minute evidence means:
👉 More work to chase colleagues in emails
👉 More digging through old note books and diaries
👉 More rushed SLE’s and assessments
👉 More work trying to remember what was taught in a lecture you attended six months ago
👉 Lower quality evidence overall
Generally, doctors will not have given much thought to their appraisals until the month or few weeks before the meeting. We feel that this is a poor use of your time and a waste of many great opportunities.
Instead, we think you should do the opposite by:
👉 Collecting high-quality evidence
👉 In the right format
👉 In a timely manner
👉 That can be uploaded easily to your appraisal document
Being efficient and effective means doing a little bit of thinking and planning in advance. The rest of this article looks into the required sections of your appraisal and how you can meet the evidence requirements with minimal work.
Write a PDP
Create a personalised development plan (PDP) that focuses on meeting your appraisal requirements. You’ll have to meet your appraisal requirements anyway this year, so you might as well set yourself clear goals that ensure your targets are achievable and manageable within the context of the rest of your work.
The benefit of doing this is:
👉 You’ll know exactly what is required of you, so you won’t end up doing more than is necessary.
👉 You’ll be able to spread out the work over a year so that you won’t feel overstretched.
👉 You’ll be able to passively keep an eye out for opportunities to meet your targets through the year, which requires less last-minute active searching and work on your behalf.
The main appraisal requirements that you can incorporate into your PDP are:
👉 Getting feedback from colleagues and patients
👉 Participating in CPD
👉 Participating in Quality Improvement.
Read our article ‘The Secret Reason that Personal Development Plans are Great for F3 Locum Doctors’. You can also learn more about PDP in this section of the Porfolio Companion.
🥼 Getting feedback from colleagues and patients
When writing your appraisal-oriented PDP, you might say something like:
‘I want to make a plan that I can present to my appraiser at the end of the year describing how I am going to collect patient feedback.’
This means your goal for the year is simply to think about something and discuss your ideas at your appraisal. It might be work you are doing anyway - Googling ‘how to collect patient feedback’, reading Messly’s feedback for appraisal guides, and taking notes on which standardised questionnaire to use. This target might take you 10 minutes to complete, but is a perfectly valid PDP goal for the year.
Make sure you compile your research, notes, or learning in a way that you can evidence at your appraisal (i.e. collect your notes and key learning points, reflect on how your learning will influence your practice, and discuss this at your appraisal).
🩺 Continuing Professional Development
Your appraisal requires you to provide evidence of CPD. First, establish roughly how much CPD you should do and then look for CPD opportunities throughout the year that will help you reach your target.
A rough estimate of how much CPD you should aim for can be calculated using the table below.
Take two minutes at the end of each CPD session to record the title, session length, key points, and a brief reflection on any planned changes to your practice resulting from your learning. Doing this means that the CPD is transferable to your MAG form and will save you the struggle of doing this several months down the line when it is harder to remember what the session was about.
The CPD section of our Portfolio Companion explains CPD in more detail, including what counts as CPD and what to do if you are struggling to find CPD opportunities.
One of the core elements of CPD is doing workplace-based assessments (WBAs), also known as Supervised Learning Events (SLEs). Getting WBAs signed off requires you to be prepared, opportunistic, and flexible.
You will doubtless have numerous opportunities in a normal working week to engage in a few quick WBAs. Hence, it’s worth having the necessary paperwork (like the templates that you can find in the WBA section of our Portfolio Companion) to hand when the opportunity strikes.
👌 Quality Improvement
You will need to show engagement in QI activity at your appraisal, so keeping an eye and ear out for opportunities throughout the year will be hugely beneficial as these projects generally take sustained low-level effort for a long period of time and are harder to ‘do’ last-minute.
You can read more about Quality Improvement Activity in our Portfolio Companion.
💡 Our top tips in summary
👉 Establish whether you need an appraisal and what format you would be following.
👉 Find out who your appraiser is and book in two appointments with them for when your appraisal is due.
👉 Ensure that you can open your appraisal form, and familiarise yourself it’s structure and contents.
👉 Do a PDP at the start of your year that addresses each of your appraisal goals. Set as low a bar as you need for these to feel achievable.
👉 Calculate roughly how much CPD you should attend, and keep an eye out for opportunities throughout the year.
👉 Read the CPD page in our Portfolio Companion if you are struggling to find CPD ideas and opportunities.
👉 Invest 2 minutes after each CPD activity to ensure that the evidence you have collected will easily and properly be transferable to your appraisal document.
👉 Engage in WBAs throughout the year, be opportunistic, and use our templates and worked examples to create high-quality appraisal evidence.
👉 Use standardised questionnaires and GMC approved surveys when collecting feedback to ensure that it can be used as evidence at appraisal.
👉 Use the resources, tools, and summaries that Messly have curated for you. Links to the Portfolio Companion and other articles on this topic can be found below.
👉 Prepare yourself ahead of the meeting and read this article to find out what actually happens in an appraisal meeting.
This article is part of a wider series of resources designed to support doctors through the process of building great portfolios. The heart of this is Messly’s Portfolio Companion, which is a detailed set of guides, templates and tools to help you build and manage your portfolio with confidence. For other articles and discussion on the topic, click here.
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