Applying for Core Surgical Training – Portfolio Tips!


Applying for surgical training can be a little scary, especially if you start looking at the (endless!) list of requirements. However, if you are prepared and aware of what to expect then the process will be much easier.

In the UK, you may apply for Core Surgical Training (CST) in Foundation Year 2 (FY2). This means you should have your portfolio up to date and be ready to apply by January i.e. second month of your second FY2 rotation, unless you intend to take a year out.


Before delving into the nitty gritty of preparing your portfolio, I highly suggest you do the following:

  1. Identify a mentor: Find a core surgical trainee or surgical registrar and ask to see their surgical portfolio. This is invaluable. You will have the opportunity to understand how to organise the portfolio and also be able to extract some useful ideas about how to excel in each section. Surgical trainees are usually very happy to give you advice and may even hand down books or documents. 
  2. Collect evidence: Gather physical evidence for everything you achieve and pop it all in a file as you go. This level of organisation will pay off.


Now back to the nitty gritty!

Your portfolio will need to be divided into several sections. These sections will be guided by the “Portfolio Checklist” that you can usually find online. This document lays out each section and the number of points you will gain by meeting certain criteria.

The sections are usually set out as below – so here are my tips for each section:

  1. Degrees & Qualifications – e.g. MBBS, BSc or PhD. Some graduate medics may also have other degrees for this section.
    • !! TOP TIP: if you have the opportunity to do an intercalated BSc, I would highly recommend you do one!!
  2. Additional achievements – this includes any awards or prizes at medical school or as a doctor
  3. Courses – usually more points are given for surgery-related courses, and some may be mandatory. These include BSS (basic surgical skills), START surgery, ATLS (advanced trauma life support).
    • !! TOP TIP: book these sooner rather than later since they get booked up quickly !!
  4. Audit & Quality Improvement Project (QIP) – this does not have to be surgical – it can be about anything! Closed-loop cycle (audit & re-audit) is much better at showing that you are committed to the subject and the changes you have implemented (and you usually get more points).
    • !! TOP TIP: try to make it something interesting but also manageable, so that it can be completed in a timely manner giving you the chance to re-audit !!
  5. Teaching – this can include bedside teaching with medical students, departmental talks or organising national conferences.
    • !! TOP TIP: always collect feedback forms – this is a way of showing you are willing to understand how to make improvements !!
  6. Presentation & Publication – do not worry if you haven’t got any presentations or publications.
    • !! TOP TIP: The best way to get a publication in F1 is to look out for an interesting and/or rare case and write it up as a case report. For presentations, keep an eye out for upcoming conferences and submit an abstract for the audit you have completed !!
  7. Exams – MRCS – it is not mandatory to have completed your MRCS exam at time of application, but if you have passed Part A then that’s a bonus!
  8. Commitment to specialty – this includes attending surgical conferences, surgical journal club or having done a surgical elective.
    • !! TOP TIP: if your hospital does not have a surgical journal club then set one up with colleagues !!


Surgeons love precision and organisation. It is always a good idea to take some time in making your portfolio look its best when you have gathered all your evidences together.

My top tips are:
  1. Get yourself a nice, clean file (keep the colour simple and professional)
  2. Use plastic wallets for sheets of paper within your file
  3. Use dividers to make it easier to navigate to each section of your portfolio
  4. Create a contents page so that the person looking at your portfolio can find what they are looking for easily.

Are you planning to apply for a surgical training job soon? Let us know how you feel and drop us an email if you have any questions.

Good luck!

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