ST3 Portfolio Building Essentials: Area 8: Higher degrees


This portfolio section evaluates whether you possess higher education degrees from the UK or their equivalents, specifically at the master’s level and above. Degrees with a thesis or dissertation, such as an MSc, MMedEd, MS, or ChM, are awarded a score of 1. Research degrees like an MD or PhD receive the maximum score of 2.

Early planning is crucial for this section. Completing a master’s degree takes a minimum of one year full-time or two years part-time, while an MD or PhD can take anywhere from three to four years full-time, or five to six years part-time. It’s important to choose higher degrees that are relevant to your specialty. If you’re unsure which specialty or degree to pursue, consider options that apply to all specialties, such as surgical sciences, healthcare innovation, epidemiology, global health, or medical education.

You can maximize your points in multiple areas with strategic planning. For example, obtaining a Medical Education Degree will earn you points in both this section and in Area 10, which covers formal teaching qualifications. Masters in surgical sciences degrees typically prepare you for MRCS exams, while ChM would prepare you for the FRCS. You can access scholarships such as the Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarships (for those outside of the UK), Chevening Scholarship, or ASiT – Edinburgh Surgery Online Bursary.

If you hold qualifications from outside the UK, ensure you have them verified for equivalency through UK NARIC. Without this verification, your qualifications may not be awarded any points. Additionally, note that intercalated degrees and honorary BSc degrees do not count, and having more than one master’s or PhD degree does not provide additional points.

Achieving points in this section requires planning 1-2 years in advance. I recommend considering these programs while you are still a Senior House Officer (SHO) to build a strong foundation for your career plan. However, it’s never too late to start. Keep in mind that this section will not significantly boost your application if you plan to apply for a training post in the same year you start your master’s program. Typically, master’s programs begin around September, while the application process for ST3 starts in November.

My personal experience was as follows. I chose to pursue an MSc in Surgical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. This program runs as a part-time online course, which allowed me to fit it into my busy schedule. While taking the programme, I was still based in Kenya and managed to secure a Commonwealth Distance Learning Scholarship, saving me the £15,200 cost for the three-year course. The program was designed in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh to prepare students for the MRCS exams. I started the MSc before taking my MRCS exams and strategically planned to complete MRCS part A and B during the course. Additionally, I was able to publish my research dissertation. This demonstrates the synergy achievable through early planning and intentionality. I graduated with distinction in my MSc the same month I received my Membership to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Key Points Summary:

  • Planning and Duration: Completing a higher degree requires early planning; a master’s degree takes 1-2 years, while an MD or PhD can take 3-6 years depending on full-time or part-time study.
  • It’s crucial to choose higher degrees relevant to your medical specialty, but degrees like epidemiology, global health, or medical education are broadly applicable.
  • Pursuing a Medical Education Degree can earn points in both the higher degrees section and the teaching qualifications section (Area 10).
  • Ensure non-UK qualifications are verified for equivalency through UK NARIC;

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