To F3 or not to F3?

Over the past few years, there have been notable changes in the way Doctors are choosing to progress through their training. A recent report from the GMC highlighted that 54% of Doctors took a career break after F2 in 2017 – nearly double the number from 2014.Furthermore, 40% of Foundation Doctors did not take up a speciality training post in 2017.4

What’s driving this trend? Two of the main reasons cited were indecision around career choice and health and wellbeing.1  Taking a career break following completion of the Foundation Programme is generally viewed positively.1,2 However, if you’re planning an F3 year it’s advisable to be clear on your underlying motivation and exactly what you’re planning to achieve during that time.

Click here, to read our article where we have compiled all the options available after completing Foundation Training.

Gaining Experience

The generalist nature of Foundation Training can mean that managing to get all the necessary experience before applying for specialty training can be difficult. This can be particularly notable for aspiring surgeons – the intense competition at ST3 applications can lead to the bar being raised beyond what’s practical to achieve in one’s first four years.

For many, an F3 year doesn’t mean stepping away from medicine. Trust posts can offer the opportunity for regular hours whilst allowing the time for a greater focus on your own development needs. With perpetual rota gaps, the demand is great and Trusts often offer training and support as part of the role to encourage recruitment. Before accepting the position offered, consider what your development needs are and negotiate to ensure that you’re maximising your exposure to the opportunities you need.

Exploring Options

For some, the experience of those first few years has left their impression of medicine a little tarnished. It is a great profession and can be wonderfully satisfying. It is also incredibly challenging. To guard against the all-encompassing nature of Medicine there has been increasing interest in constructing a portfolio career. This might be by incorporating more traditional strings to your bow such as education or academia; or perhaps a more creative and bespoke path. Do you have an entrepreneurial flair, a predilection for leadership opportunities, an inclination towards medical journalism or something off the beaten path? Taking the time to explore your other skills and talents is the first step in identifying which direction is right for you.

Recharging Batteries

The perception is often that newly qualified doctors sprint out of medical school, fresh-faced and eager. The truth is that many Medics have had their nose pressed to the grindstone since the ink dried on their SATs papers. It’s no surprise that many Foundation doctors are pushing through to the end of F2 with the feeling that it’s time for a break – either to travel, or just to take their foot of the pedal. Taking a step back from training can provide you with the space needed to take stock, or even take some control back over your life. However, taking a career break to side-step burnout should be considered the canary in the coal mine. The time out of training can be a timely opportunity to consider the sustainability of your current approach to your work and life. At least part of your aim for the year should be in taking a step back and evaluating how you weave your interests and support structures throughout your life. These will be the scaffolding that will hold us up when times get tough.

Finding Direction

This leaves the question ‘what’s right for me?’ The honest answer is that you need to create the time and space needed to explore what it is you want, both out of your career and your life. Find someone to act as a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas, be that critical friend to challenge your assumptions and perceptions, and ultimately, to support you in exploring not just how to achieve your potential but reach beyond it.

If you are thinking of taking a career break or are struggling with you career direction, then consider accessing a Career Advisor through your local Trust or Deanery. They can help with practicalities and also in understanding the options available. An alternative is Career Coaching. Working with a Coach will enable you to explore not only what you’d like from your destination, but your own unique path to get there.

Helpful Resources

For those looking for Clinical Fellowships, Research and Teaching fellowships and other SHO roles, take a look at Messly Jobs, a new job site for all UK doctor jobs:

For those considering developing a portfolio career, or perhaps a new direction beyond medicine then Medic Footprints offer resources and support to help you do just that:

Looking for inspiration? Then take a look at The Adventure Medic Guide to taking Time out of Training:

This BMJ article explores the practicalities and benefits of an F3 year for aspiring surgeons: Planning an “F3” year: opportunities and considerations for aspiring surgeons

Want to explore your training options?

We’ve created the Training Navigator, a tool designed using the GMC National Training Survey data, which allows you to compare deaneries and rotations based on 40,000 junior doctors’ ratings and reviews. It’s free to use – click below to sign up and give yourself the full picture.

Get Started



  1. (2018). Understanding trends among current doctors in training.London: BMA.
  2. Fell, M., Jaring, M., & MacKenzie, K. (2013). Planning an “F3” year: opportunities and considerations for aspiring surgeons. British Medical Journal, 347.
  3. (2017). Local Education Providers: Progression Reports.London: GMC.
  4. UK Foundation Programme. (2017). Career Destinations Report 2017.London: UKFPO.


Bio – Laura Blackburn is a Medical Registrar with an interest in education, coaching and mentoring. She has just completed a year as a Health Education England Coaching and Mentoring Fellow. Through her company Transition Solutions, she provides group and one-to-one coaching for professionals. Particular areas of interest are career coaching for doctors and supporting professionals returning to practice following career breaks. Coaching will support you in exploring your values, motivations and goals and help you achieve the career you really want.


Search Jobs

In this collection 18