7 Powerful Principles and Strategies for Building Your NHS Portfolio


With increasing competition for training jobs in the NHS, having a robust portfolio is not just a formality but a crucial tool for standing out in your applications and increasing your chances of securing your preferred job.

In this article, I offer several principles and strategies applicable to any specialty or professional portfolio, ensuring you can confidently showcase your qualifications and achievements.

Principle 1: Preparation / Understanding Requirements

Each specialty may have similar but slightly different requirements for specialty trainee applicants. It’s crucial to research the specific requirements for each specialty you are applying to. Take detailed notes on what each specialty expects to ensure your portfolio meets all necessary criteria. This is your compass.

Principle 2: Set Objectives

Once you have reviewed and understood the requirements for your application, you need to set targets based on what you need to achieve. This involves setting specific, time-bound, aggressive aims for each main requirement.

 See this example:

  1. Perform 20 appendectomies by Dec. 31st
  2. Present 4 conference papers by Dec. 31st
  3. Perform 2 closed-loop audits by June 30th
  4. Obtain a teaching certification by October 20th

This is the direction your compass is set towards.

Principle 3: Create a Plan

Now that you have set your objectives, you need to determine where you currently are and how to reach your targets. The plan is your roadmap to achieve your goals within the set time and with limited resources.

For example, performing 20 appendectomies by Dec. 31st depends on several factors: the current date, the time frame (e.g., 6 months left would require a different plan than 1 month), and how many appendectomies you have already performed (e.g., 0 vs. 10). If you have 6 months and have already performed 5 appendectomies, you need to perform 15 more in 6 months, which translates to 2.5 per month. Aim for 3 appendectomies a month or 1 per week to give yourself a buffer for uncertainties.

Here, you are charting a path on the map with your compass in hand.

Principle 4: Be Accountable

This principle is challenging for many. You need to be accountable to someone other than yourself, ideally your supervisor or a mentor. Discuss your objectives and plans with them so they can help keep you accountable. We often fall behind our own plans, but this is less likely to happen if the plans are agreed upon with a third party.

Here, you are signing a virtual contract.

Principle 5: Surround Yourself with the Right People

There is an African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

This principle is based on the idea that you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with. Improve your chances of success by surrounding yourself with people on a similar journey who share similar goals. Ideally, have someone who is 1 or 2 levels ahead (someone already in the training program you are targeting), someone at your level (applying for training posts), and someone below your level (seeking your advice and mentorship). Each person plays a different role that ultimately drives you to achieve your goals.

Here, you have chosen your band of travellers on this journey.

Principle 6: Synergize

This principle follows the rule of working smarter, not harder. For example, an audit can be presented locally for teaching, regionally or nationally at a conference and published in a journal. A single audit can get you points in 3-4 areas in your portfolio. In addition, if you supervise others in the audit, you can use this as management/leadership experience.

Collaborate with your team. Two people working together can complete twice the number of audits or research projects within the same time frame as working alone.

Principle 7: Re-evaluate & Adjust

Recalibrate your compass. Check your progress toward your objectives in relation to your plan. Use your accountability partner as a sounding board. Adjust your plan based on what’s working and what isn’t. A monthly review should be the minimum frequency. Be proactive and take control of your circumstances as they change.

Applying these seven principles will build an exemplary portfolio in preparation for your training interviews.

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