How To Decide Which Foundation School Is Right For You
Your experience as a foundation doctor will largely be determined by which foundation school you choose to attend. But, with so many foundation schools (or deaneries) out there, how can you decide which one is right for you?
In this article, we'll break down the key steps in this important decision-making process, help you create a shortlist of foundation schools for your September 2022 applications, and share some useful resources for extra support.
Understanding the Challenge
Foundation schools are made up of a group of hospitals in a certain region that join together to form a ‘school’ and offer junior doctors training and experience. There are currently 20 of them in the UK, and they’re broken down to deaneries such as East Anglia or Essex-Bedfordshire-Hertfordshire.
When looking at which foundation schools are most appealing to you, consider more than just which ones carry the most prestige. The following are factors which we recommend considering carefully when evaluating your choice of foundation schools:
🏥 Hospitals and Jobs
🥇 Competition ratio and ranking
Once you've done this, you should aim to come up with a shortlist of at least five. From there, you'll have a much easier task when it comes to making your final decision.
Those 20 available foundation schools are spread all across the UK, so location is a key factor in the decision. To narrow your options down, try asking yourself the following questions:
👉 Do you want to train where you studied, where you grew up, or move somewhere new?
👉 What are the pros and cons of each of these for you?
For competitive foundation schools, you need to also decide if you’d be happy to train at any and all of the hospitals they contain. For instance, you’re not guaranteed to stay in London by picking South Thames.
This may seem like a daunting task, but here at Messly we've prepared detailed guides for each of the options, exploring everything from geography to trainee satisfaction. You can check out our Foundation Programme Guides here.
🏥 Hospitals and Job Rotations
As touched on above, each deanery consists of a number of hospitals. If you have a dream hospital or specialty that you’re particularly interested in, this makes life a lot easier. For example, if you want to be a liver transplant surgeon, you may decide to do a rotation in general surgery at King’s College Hospital.
But not all of us are fortunate enough to know exactly what we want to do. Don’t worry if you're still unsure at this stage, as most people are in the same boat.
Instead of dwelling on that, focus on the following points when thinking about which hospitals, and deaneries, you might put on your shortlist.
👉 Satisfaction ratings – A yearly publication by the GMC (National Trainee Survey) is carried out for all the hospitals. Check out the guides linked in the above section to have a look at these.
👉 Any hospitals you enjoyed in your medical student rotations – Whilst your experience as a FY doctor will be very different to your medical student days, you may remember some important details which could inform your decision. Were the FY doctors constantly swamped with work, for example, or did they have time to attend surgery and do any cool procedures?
👉 Networking – The opportunities to network and build relationships in your preferred speciality are also worth thinking about. It never hurts to start networking early by doing a rotation in your specialty and getting involved with audits, research, or any other projects with a leading consultant.
💲 Financial and Social Situations
Everyone's personal situation is different, so think about which foundation schools will be suitable for your finances and other commitments. A couple of important things to consider when assessing which schools will be realistic options are:
👉 Can you afford to live in the area? This is particularly important if you're considering a big city with a higher cost of living. For example, rent prices for a studio apartment in some areas of London can reach around £1,500 per month, and that’s excluding bills and other expenses. You can use a tool called Numbeo to calculate the costs of living in the cities you're looking into.
👉 Do you have any social commitments? For instance, do you have any dependents, or are you caring for a relative? If so, do you need to be in the same household or city to continue with these commitments, or is there someone else who can do this for you?
This is likely to be a smaller contribution to the decision-making process, but it’s still something worth considering as you'll need to be comfortable outside of school as well during your time there.
Will working in your chosen deanery allow you to continue with any hobbies, interests, or personal commitments you currently have?
On the flip side, are you looking for the opportunity to change your lifestyle? For instance, maybe you're keen to move out of a city to the sunny beaches of Cornwall and learn how to surf.
A move away from home can provide great experiences and a welcome change of pace for lots of people. Either way, it's important to be sure you'll be happy with the kind of lifestyle you'll be living before making your final decision.
🥇 Ranking your deaneries
Once you've taken all those aspects into consideration and come up with a shortlist of foundation schools, you’ll need to carefully determine the order they rank in.
Some people will do this by their chances of getting in, whilst others do this by which deanery they want the most.
There’s no right answer for how to do this, so it's best to go with what you feel is most suitable for you personally.
Still, to make this easier, we’ve written an article to help you understand everything from Educational Performance Measure (EPM) and Foundation Programme Application System (FPAS) scores, to lowest allocated score for each deanery, to help you find a strategy that works for you. Read his here: How to Rank Your Foundation Schools
Final Tips and Resources
1. Think carefully about what we've discussed here, and think about the things which are most important to you.
2. Have a chat with your family and friends about the decision before finalising your options.
3. Compare foundation schools
4. Make sure you’re up to date on this year’s timeline, which is located here.
5. Start thinking about the SJT, and have a look at our top tips for this here.
This article is part of a wider series, supporting doctors by helping you choose the best foundation school for you and to have the best experience possible. Click here to visit our Foundation Programme Resources Centre to explore the full list of guides and articles.