It’s the start of a new year and with that comes speciality applications season!
Doctors all over the UK are now eagerly waiting for application outcomes, and in a few months, they hope to start training in their chosen field. But there’s a whole other side to this – there’s just as many doctors wondering, “Should I take an F3 year?”
Taking an F3 year, or a year out of training, is becoming more popular in recent years – figures from the annual UK foundation programme office (UKFPO) reports between 2017 and 2019 show that over 50% of doctors take a ‘F3’ year. (1)
Often it is the first opportunity for a well-deserved natural break in training for many doctors who've just completed foundation training, which can be a very challenging time, even at the best of times. Training can sometimes feel like you’re on a really fast treadmill with no option to take a break. This can leave junior doctors struggling to keep up, leaving them searching for a change in pace. Some doctors see an F3 year as dedicated time to improve their CV before applying to specialities, especially if they want to maximise portfolio points for very competitive specialities.
Whether it's to gain those elusive portfolio points for speciality training or to develop your clinical acumen gathered whilst in training or simply to recharge and reset, the world is your oyster when it comes to taking an F3 year! (1–3)
What you do depends on funds available to you and your interests. We’ve complied a list of some of the common paths taken in F3 with some pros and cons of each:
More flexibility and autonomy
Lack of sick pay and employee rights
Needs considerable planning and preparation
Variety of roles & locations available
Income can be affected
Clinical fellowship or staff grade posts
Can be linked to teaching or development posts
Can often be asked to cover rota gaps at short notice
Working in non-clinical roles e.g. leadership fellowships, medical journalism, consultancy.
Variety and flexibility
May need additional training or skills to be successful
Working in a MedTech company
Variety and new work culture
Need to network and send job applications in advance.
Exciting opportunity and change in pace
Can be expensive
Research and/or teaching
Opportunity to network and enhance skills relevant to future practice
Need to find sponsors/mentors, needs committment to completing projects
Further study (PhD, Masters, Bachelor degrees)
Strengthening CV/portfolio for speciality applications
May need to secure funds/sponsors; income can be affected
Personal reasons - family, carer roles
Time with friends and family
Income can be affected
Essentially, your F3 year is what you make of it. You don’t need to stick to clinical work – some people even use it to explore interests outside medicine, exploring how to monetise their hobbies or even expanding their side hustles. This latter aspect of time out of training has definitely blossomed in recent years and you can easily find people who inspire you or have taken the leap on social media – we found some of them and interviewed them in our last Podcast season. Increasingly, some people are even taking additional years out after seeing how fulfilling their F3 year has been.
The key to a successful F3 (or any other additional year out of training) is thorough planning and preparation. It is important to think carefully on what you want to achieve during this time, set realistic goals and make sure it’s the right thing for you.
It is important to remember that the GMC requires that you keep up with appraisals and revalidation if you intend to return to the traditional training pathway even when on your F3 year.(4)
To signpost you to a few more websites on popular F3 year opportunities, have a look at Messly’s blog post (https://www.messly.com/blog/f3-doctor-opportunities) and MedAll’s appraisal guide for F3/locum doctors (https://medall.org/career-support/appraisal-guide). Also, have a look at Medic Footprints, https://medicfootprints.org/ which we have previously featured on our Podcast for inspiration on the wealth of opportunities out there!
1. Church HR, Agius SJ. The F3 phenomenon: Early-career training breaks in medical training. A scoping review. Med Educ. 2021 Sep 1;55(9):1033–46.
2. Li Z, Kandola K, Zosmer M. What can I do during an F3 year? BMJ [Internet]. 2020 Nov 24 [cited 2023 Jan 12];371. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4372
3. Fell MJ, Jaring MRF, MacKenzie KR. Planning an “F3” year: opportunities and considerations for aspiring surgeons. BMJ [Internet]. 2013 Dec 12 [cited 2023 Jan 12];347:f7224. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f7224
4. How to Ace Your Annual Medical Appraisal as a Locum Doctor | Messly [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 12]. Available from: https://www.messly.com/blog/how-to-ace-your-annual-medical-appraisal-as-a-locum-doctor