What is the Academic Foundation Programme?
Posted on 2nd March 2018 by Saul Crandon
What is the Foundation Programme (FP)?
The foundation programme is a UK based, 2-year programme for graduating medical students. Through foundation years 1 and 2 (FY1 and FY2), doctors are able to develop skills they learnt at medical school and begin to become a competent practitioner, investigating and treating medical conditions.
The jobs at this level are allocated based on an individual’s score out of 100. Applicants rank the various UK deaneries in order and based on their score, they are assigned to a region of the UK. Their score consists of their Educational Performance Measure (EPM) out of 50, and a Situational Judgement Test (SJT) score of 50. More in-depth information regarding the standard foundation programme is beyond the scope of this article, but it can be found on the GMC’s website at https://www.gmc-uk.org/education/postgraduate/foundation_programme.asp
What is the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP)?
The Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) can be seen as an extension of the normal FP. It was developed as part of the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) scheme. It allows doctors to explore a range of academic interests, gain additional qualifications, build their portfolio and experience life as a clinical academic. This is important since only 5% of the medical force consists of academics, making this career path highly competitive. The academic component is allocated in place of one of your dedicated rotations (i.e. a 4-month block during F2), or an academic release day throughout F1 and F2.
Types of AFP available
There are 3 broad categories of AFP available, these are:
- Medical Education
- Leadership and Management
The most common type, research AFP’s, tend to have a heavier focus on scientific work, developing core research methodology skills as well as critically appraising medical literature. They are a great way of conducting independent research, which can often lead to presenting or publishing the work thereafter.
Medical education AFP’s tend to focus more on teaching and mentorship. This may involve developing teaching skills, setting up teaching programmes or building mentorship schemes for medical students.
AFP posts in leadership and management involve a wide variety of projects in leadership as well as the ability to complete additional qualifications in management.
How an AFP fits into the ‘academic career pathway’
Following the Walport Report (2005), the government identified a lack in structure for academia careers as well as reduced posts available. As a result, the modern academic pathway was created (Figure 1). However, the pathway is flexible, facilitating a “hop-on, hop-off” progression.
The AFP encompasses the first two years of working as a doctor following medical school, yet it is not a prerequisite for an academic career. It merely serves as an opportunity to learn what it is like to work as an academic, whilst gaining important research skills and building your portfolio. After the foundation years, doctors can then apply for an Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF), which involves a quarter of the 3 year programme dedicated to academia. This is almost double the exposure compared to AFP. From here, the Clinical Lectureship (CL) 4 year post consists of a 50/50 split in clinical and academic work allowing a deeper focus on the research elements of the job. Finally, once completed, a senior lectureship or professorship can be applied for, usually requiring a PhD to be obtained beforehand. The further details about ACF, CL and senior academic posts is beyond the scope of this article.
Figure 1. Overview of the UK academic career pathway (1)
The application process is similar to that of the standard FP. However, the AFP application allows you to select a maximum of two deaneries to apply to, within which you must rank the available jobs. In addition to the standard details needed for the FP application, you must also provide 250-word answers to a number of ‘white-space questions’. The content and quantity of these questions varies between the deaneries. Furthermore, you can add details of any additional degrees, publications, presentations and prizes to further enhance the strength of your application.
Successful candidates are shortlisted for an interview, which usually consists of a clinical and academic component. The criteria for interview can usually be found on the deanery’s website in the form of a person specification. Once completed, the first round of offers is sent out in January and candidates have 48 hours to accept or decline. The remaining places are then offered in various rounds until all the positions are filled.
It should be noted that the SJT is not used for any part of the assessment for AFP places. Nevertheless, candidates are expected to achieve a reasonable score in the SJT. If not, they may be called in to discuss components of the SJT and to ensure the candidates possess the necessary ethical and decision-making principles for life as a junior doctor.
- No drawbacks in applying – If you are unsuccessful for AFP, this has no negative consequences for the normal FP application. You simply continue as normal.
- Protected academic time
- Opportunity to explore interests in academia/research, teaching or leadership
- Enhance your portfolio through relevant experience, presentations and publications – this is useful for further speciality training applications, where these portfolio elements count for points.
- Develop transferrable skills including organisation, independence and appraisal – these skills are invaluable whether you choose to stay with academia or choose to remain clinical.
- Very competitive – competition ratios range from 1:1 to 1:9.
- Hard work – academia is difficult, it requires dedication to conduct research and see through projects to completion and dissemination.
- Reduced clinical time – you are required to achieve the same clinical competencies as your standard FP colleagues but within a decreased amount of clinical time.
- Reduced pay during the academic blocks
The AFP is an opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the academic world and develop key skills in research, teaching or leadership. It is a competitive, yet worthwhile experience achieving both clinical and academic competencies. Nevertheless, the decision to apply should be based on personal choice, with a clear vision as to what you wish to obtain from the programme.
- Academic Careers Sub-Committee of Modernising Medical Careers and the UK Clinical Collaboration. Medically- and dentally-qualified academic staff: Recommendations for training the researchers and educators of the future. 2005.