Should I do an F3 Year?
Many junior doctors know from the outset of foundation training that they intend to take an F3 Year. Others are less certain about the idea of a break in their training, and need to deeply consider the pros and cons of an F3 Year before they commit.
In this article we will explore the reasons that doctors typically choose to take an F3 Year in more detail, and look at the pros and cons of a F3 Year so that you can decide whether it might be right for you.
What is an F3 Year?
After foundation doctors complete the first two years of training (known as F1 and F2), some chose to continue their training without interruption and continue straight into a CT1 or GPST1 role. However, it has become increasingly popular for doctors to take time out of their training after F2 and delay applications to specialty training. We call this time out of a training programme after the completion of F2, an F3 Year.
Some doctors only take one year out of training (their F3 Year) but those that decide to take longer out of training count their years sequentially (F4, F5, F6 etc). As the rate of doctors choosing to take an F3 Year increases, so does the rate of doctors taking longer than one year out of training. There are many different options for work during an F3 (or other non-training) Year, and these jobs are often flexible, well compensated, and offer great educational and development opportunities that rival training roles.
Why do doctors chose to take an F3 Year?
There are four main reasons why doctors choose to take an F3 Year. They are:
✅ To broaden their medical experience
✅ To recharge their batteries
✅ To have an adventure
✅ To explore alternative careers and opportunities
Each of these reasons have a number of pros and cons, and depending on one’s personal ambitions and preferences, they will factor into the decision making differently for everyone.
🩺 Broadening your medical experience
For most junior doctors, foundation training involves 6 rotations, each lasting 4 months, in a mix of medical, surgical and community specialties. Based on a variety of factors, you may not have been able to get a foundation training job in the specialty of your choice, or you may have had to compromise gaining experience in one specialty at the expense of another.
Some doctors are not ready to commit to specialty training without getting specific experience in the specialty of their choice, particularly if they have a number of potential specialties they are interested in and can’t choose one over the others. Other doctors feel that their application would not be successful for a competitive specialty without additional experience. In these cases, an F3 Year would be incredibly valuable.
Another benefit of gaining additional experience as an F3 doctor is the opportunity to network with specialists in your preferred field, and to develop mentorship opportunities and relationships with doctors who may be able to advocate for you in future applications. Spending your F3 Year with a particular team or consultant will give them a better chance to get to know you than the trainees who cycle through the department every few months.
If you are looking to bolster your specialty application, some clinical fellowships offer part-time PG certifications or higher education degrees that are funded or partly funded. They also usually provide study budgets so you can attend courses and gain experience and training in areas that will help your applications in the future.
🔋 Recharging your batteries
Many Foundation doctors feel that getting to the end of F2 is a marathon. And at the end of it, they need some time to rest and recover from the exhausting ordeal. Training places heavy demands on your personal and professional lives, so it is not unusual for doctors to want to take back control of their time, either with a holiday or by reducing their hours. Taking a step back from work can provide you with space to reflect on your life, your work, and your priorities, particularly if foundation training has removed some of the joy from your chosen career.
Many F3 jobs offer flexible or part time working if you want to reduce your hours, but each option will also have some financial repercussions. Whether it is the lack of a contract (and therefore, the lack of fixed, secure income) or taking a pay cut (by working less hours or refusing on-call shifts) consider whether you are comfortable accepting a bit of financial risk.
It is worth noting that there are definitely reduced demands on non-training doctors, particularly in regard to portfolio and development requirements. As a trainee, you will have had to provide a portfolio of evidence at the end of each training year to pass your ARCP. As an F3, you do not need to pass an ARCP though you may be expected to compete an appraisal. These are generally much less work than an ARCP and are more tailored to your personal interests and goals, but can be stressful for doctors who lack mentorship and support outside of training. You can learn more aboutF3 portfolios, and whether or not you need to do an appraisal as an F3 doctor here.
If you are looking to reduce your hours without taking a pay cut, then locum work may be the best option for you. As an F3 locum doctor, you can earn your F2 salary in as little as 2 or 3 days per week, giving you time and space outside of work to reflect and recharge.
🗺️ Seeking adventure and excitement
If you ever dreamed of exploring the world and working overseas a doctor, then your F3 Year is the earliest opportunity in your medical career to do this. It is increasingly popular for F3 doctors to choose to move down under, to Australia or New Zealand, and spend a year or two working within the healthcare systems out there. Canada is another popular option though less common.
There are numerous stories of doctors using their F3 Years to volunteer with health charities and NGO’s across the world to offer medical support to resource poor countries or in areas suffering from disasters, and even more tales of doctors using their newfound flexibility and locum-income to fund extravagant travels around the World for months at a time.
F3 Year comes at a perfect time for many doctors as it can offer both personal and financial freedom at the same time. For doctors without any financial or personal responsibilities such as a mortgage or children, then an F3 Year may offer a timely opportunity to live dynamically and take risks in a way they may not be able to later in their medical careers.
If you are looking for excitement and adventure, there are a wide variety of easy to do this which offer different degrees of security. Locum work in the UK can fund long travels, or for an adventure with a bit more routine and financial security, a contracted role in Australia or New Zealand may be more appealing.
💼 Exploring Alternative Careers
Some doctors have spent the years of medical school and foundation training increasingly bothered by the niggling feeling that medicine may not be the right career choice for them. For many, the demands of foundation training mean that other areas of their life has suffered, or they feel unfulfilled by the balance of their professional activity.
An F3 Year is often the first opportunity for doctors to genuinely explore other careers and interests without jeopardising all of the progress they have made to date.
You could work in education or academia, a healthcare startup, medical journalism, the pharmaceutical industry, or something further off the beaten path. If you'd like to learn more about other career options, the Alternative Careers for Doctors Facebook group is a fantastic community of like-minded clinicians who are exploring alternative career options.
If you want to try out alternative careers, consider working as a locum doctor to fund your journey of self-discovery. Medicine doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and you can use the flexible work shifts that are available to maintain some clinical skills, earn some buffer income, and alleviate any anxiety of shifting away from clinical medicine, to find a career balance that works for you. Try seeing medicine as a way of adding multiple strings to your bow, instead of holding you back from your dreams.
🤔 The Pros and Cons of an F3 Year
Whether something is a pro or con will be unique to you and your personal circumstances. However, we have summarised what might be considered a pro or con in the table below so you can weigh whether or not an F3 Year is the right choice for you.
👉 Boost CV experience.
👉 Good networking opportunities if working in multiple departments.
👉 Gain experience in alternative specialties.
👉 Time off for personal interests or travel.
👉 Opportunity to get better income if work as a locum or in a non-medical role.
👉 Opportunity to work overseas.
👉 Flexibility in work schedule - can work as much or little as you want.
👉 Increases autonomy - can choose your job and shifts to suit you.
👉 Opportunity to explore alternative (non-medical) careers without jeopardising progress in medical career.
👉 No ARCP or portfolio requirements for the year
👉 Uncontracted or non-NHS roles may affect NHS continuous service benefits.
👉 Uncontracted roles may lack employee rights ie. maternity benefits.
👉 Disruption to training means that it may add at least one year to reach CC.
👉 Uncontracted or non-NHS roles may affect NHS pension.
👉 Lack of contract may affect Visa for international doctors.
👉 Possible loss of financial security.
👉 Will likely need an Appraisal.
👉 Loss of social network from trainee peers
If you remain unsure about whether an F3 year is right for you, we highly recommend working through our F3 workbook for guided exercises to help you consider your F3 Year. You can also check out our article ‘Your F3 options explained’ and our F3 Hub for more articles and information about F3 Years.
This article is part of a wider series of comprehensive guides and information to help doctors ensure their F3 year is a success. We cover everything from initial planning, options for moving abroad, help with finding work, and tips for making the most of the experience.
Click here to visit our F3 Resource Hub to explore the full list of guides and articles.
Find locum work on your terms
The best locum agencies together in one place, competing to find you the best locum shifts. Managed for free through your Messly account.