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ss nucleus - summer 2007,  Selling yourself?

Selling yourself?

Sam Leinster suggests a godly approach

Humility is, as we know, a major Christian virtue. But how does it fit in with the modern world of career planning and personal development plans? There has always been competition for training posts in the popular specialties, but this appears to have become more intense with the introduction of a national recruitment system as part of the Modernising Medical Careers programme.[1]

The sense of competition has filtered back to selection for foundation programmes. Although the number of pre-registration posts has been increased to take account of the rise in the number of graduates, the introduction of the national online application process has been accompanied by unsubstantiated rumours that new graduates may be unable to find jobs. In this atmosphere, it is not surprising that there are anecdotes about students embellishing their application forms to give themselves a competitive advantage.

How should we respond to these challenges? Does being a Christian require us to be self-effacing? Or should we attempt to show ourselves in the best possible light, to make sure we are in a position to follow God's calling for our lives? The immediate focus may be on applying for foundation year posts, but the same principles are relevant to preparing a curriculum vitae (CV) for any job in the future. Life will not become less competitive as you progress.

My score was not high. I was in the third quartile and did not score well on the examples section. But I got my absolute number one rotation, down to the order in which my placements occur.

Peter Christian
F1 doctor in Ashford

scriptural principles

1) God is in control

This is one of those wonderful truths that we all believe in theory, but find incredibly difficult to rely on in practice. The promises are very clear: 'And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.' [2]

Faced with an application form for the foundation programme, these promises may sound hollow. Part of our problem is that we want God to fulfil our wishes, not his. He does not promise that we will get the professorial rotation in our own medical school; he does promise that where we end up will be the best place for him to accomplish his plan for us.

2) God's kingdom should be our first concern

There are many reasons for following a career in medicine, including altruism; scientific curiosity; security; status. For Jesus, one motivation in life took precedence: 'But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.' [3]

We may have other motives and some of them are entirely proper, but they should always be secondary. God has called you into medicine, so that you can build his kingdom through your profession. For some, that will mean giving up glittering career prospects to serve the dispossessed and forgotten. For others, it will mean rising to become a leader of the profession. For the majority, it will mean faithfully carrying out the routine of ordinary healthcare delivery for the good of our patients and the glory of God.

3) candid self-appraisal is important

A true professional will always evaluate their own performance. According to current terminology, we should all be reflective practitioners. This is, in essence, what Paul suggests as appropriate Christian behaviour in Romans 12:3: 'Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.'

We have a tendency to emphasise the first part of the quotation and suggest that true Christianity requires self-denigration. But we are called to an accurate assessment of our gifts and abilities. In the rest of the chapter, Paul points out that the varied abilities he lists are gifts from God, and our responsibility is to use them properly. Nevertheless, he does call us to recognise these gifts we have been given. To deny that you have a particular natural ability that is plainly visible to all is false modesty, not true humility. It comes very close to blasphemy because it is to deny what God has made you to be.

Examiners don't want to hear, 'I have good communication skills'. They want to hear, 'I listened to their ideas, concerns and expectations. Then I did this.' Your aim is to help the examiners see your qualities, through your examples, without you having to big yourself up.


4) honesty is essential

Honesty is central to our relationships with one another and with God. In the Bible, we are directly commanded to avoid falsehood and to speak the truth [4] in order to become more like God. Any form of deception will affect your relationship with God, and so affect your enjoyment of life as a whole.

It may also have a major adverse effect on your medical career. The General Medical Council states specifically, 'You must always be honest about your experience, qualifications and position, particularly when applying for posts'.[5] Doctors have been struck off or suspended for falsifying their CV.[6]

practical implications

How do we apply these principles when it comes to applying for jobs? Most applications will be for posts within the National Health Service (NHS). All of the training posts, including those on foundation programmes, require the completion of online application forms. These ask for evidence of a number of characteristics thought to be important in practising as a junior doctor.

There are a number of areas of debate relating to the process. Are the criteria accurate predictors of performance in a clinical setting? Does the process accurately assess the criteria? Is there an evidence base for the process? Whatever one feels about it all, the reality is that the forms have to be completed if one is going to work in a training grade in the NHS.

1) answer the question

Each section of the form asks for evidence of a particular characteristic. Make sure that the example you give relates to the characteristic being asked for and attempt to explain why you think it is pertinent. It may be obvious to you that acting as a leader for a youth club for twelve-year-olds in a deprived housing estate shows evidence of team work. But this will not be apparent to a reader unless you explain why. Do not assume that the person scoring the form can work it out for themselves.

2) give realistic examples

As far as possible, use concrete examples rather than vague generalities. Describe the situation in sufficient detail for it to be understandable to a reader who is not familiar with your particular setting. The form does ask that you relate the discussion to the post for which you are applying.

Remember that the forms are scored by experienced medical practitioners, so do not embellish your involvement in the scenario. They will know that it is unlikely that you single-handedly managed a major trauma case in accident and emergency. A frank description of the role that you actually played, and a discussion of what you learned from it, will be much more convincing. Do not be tempted to make up examples. The scorers can request verification of the claims made. It would be highly embarrassing to be caught out by such verification and it would lead to the application being thrown out.

In reality, a number of my Christian activities were my best examples. The challenge for me was to make clear that serving on the CMF committee was different to being a cell group leader.


3) fill in your own application

There are, it is rumoured, websites where you can download stock answers to the questions. You could persuade a more senior friend, colleague, or tutor to fill in the form for you. Both of these approaches are dishonest. On the purely pragmatic level, there are suggestions that anti-plagiarism software is going to be introduced. Even without using such software, experienced markers can often recognise stock answers, especially if the same answer is being used by a large number of candidates. Remember, the scorer can ask for verification of the examples given. For example, I have been asked to verify that a student actually did set up the MEDSIN branch in Norwich. Anyone who is found to have fabricated the form could be excluded from employment.

I personally had to verify all my claims, in the middle of finals, so it's better to have all the written evidence you think you might need ready, in case you're asked.


4) allow time to complete the form

Successful completion of the form takes time and effort. Do not leave it until the last moment. The form can be saved and subsequently edited, so take the opportunity to reflect on what you have written before finally submitting it. However, to avoid traffic jams on the website, do submit it ahead of the deadline.

5) show your application to others

Those with an independent streak or a competitive nature may be tempted to sit down in front of the computer and dash off the application without any consultation. This is a bad plan. Getting someone else to read the application will ensure that you have made your meaning clear to a third party. There is also a strong possibility that they will recognise characteristics in you that you were unaware of and they may even be able to suggest better examples than the ones you have used. They may, of course, point out parts of answers where you have overstepped the acceptable degree of poetic licence!

a final question

Should you be open about your Christian faith in the application? We should never deny our faith, but witness is most effective when it is in context rather than contrived. In traditional CVs, it was common to have the heading 'outside interests' where one could highlight Christian activities. The current application forms ask specific questions and they are marked against fixed criteria.

It may be that your best example under a given heading will come from your Christian activities, but it is more than likely that it will not. Do not worry about this. Your Christian standing is irrelevant to the selection process. Once you get the job you will have the opportunity and the challenge to live out the Christian life in your daily activities, and to speak about it when you have earned the right by your attitude and behaviour.

  2. Rom 8:28
  3. Mt 6:33
  4. Eph 4:25
  5. General Medical Council. Good Medical Practice. 2006.
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