Choosing between a clinical teaching fellowship and an anatomy demonstrator post

Authors: David Roberts 

Publication date:  07 Jul 2015

Dedicated teaching roles are increasingly popular options as time out from formal training. David Roberts advises on how to choose between two roles

Clinical teaching fellowships and anatomy demonstrator posts are dedicated teaching roles available to any doctor who has completed their foundation programme. Unusually, I have undertaken both roles.

After completing my core surgical training I needed time to consider my career path, and so I started a clinical teaching fellowship for the University of Bristol. In this post I failed to get a radiology training number. I therefore applied for and subsequently accepted an offer as an anatomy demonstrator at the University of Bristol, in the knowledge that teaching anatomy would be beneficial when I started radiology.

To any doctor interested in teaching I would highly recommend undertaking either post, although I realise that choosing between them is not straightforward. When deciding, consider the following points to help you make the right choice.

Teaching style and student groups

This is the most important point to consider, and separate descriptions in BMJ Careers give a useful overview on each role.[1] [2] [3]

As a clinical teaching fellow I taught medical students in years two to five, but I spent most of my time with third and fifth years. I taught in a variety of settings including wards, classrooms, the clinical skills laboratory, and the simulation suite. I led most of my teaching sessions so lesson planning was a large part of my job. Half of my teaching topics were not predetermined, which meant I had the freedom to try my own ideas and innovations. I enjoyed the teaching variety as a clinical teaching fellow, but the ward based teaching required a lot of preparation.

Selecting patients for summative assessment where a student was observed taking a full history and was examined by two senior clinicians was often stressful. We had to ensure that patients were available at set times and that teaching did not interfere with their clinical care, such as ward rounds and out of ward examinations.

I got to know my students better as I had fewer of them here than with my anatomy demonstrator post, and I could tailor my teaching to their personal needs.

As an anatomy demonstrator, I taught medical students in years one and two and year one dentists. Throughout my 10 month post, I was also involved in teaching on undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Teaching the entire first and second year groups in divided sessions certainly made remembering names challenging, but it was enjoyable to meet and teach such a variety of students.

The senior anatomists led most of the topographical anatomy teaching, and in between their presentations anatomy demonstrators helped the students find the relevant anatomy. The demonstrators and I led parts of sessions and gave the pre-session formative “spot tests,” where we would point out different structures under the camera and the students would answer by turning point pads or give written answers.

Both of these experiences considerably improved my confidence in addressing larger groups. I gave small group teaching sessions to second year students, which required lesson planning, but the topic and workbook questions were predetermined. The anatomy demonstrators ran the undergraduate courses from learning topics to delivery, and in postgraduate courses we usually ran a station on a topic given to us by the course lead. Planning courses took time, but in doing so I gained good experience in organisation and time management.

There was less planning as an anatomy demonstrator than as a clinical teaching fellow because most sessions were duplicated for the different groups of the same year. Learning the anatomy takes time and requires work out of hours, and the anatomy teaching is repetitive. However, listening to the same three lectures on one topic has meant I have a better knowledge of the material.

Personal development and achievements

When I asked colleagues why they applied for their post their answer(s) usually fell into three categories: they did not know which specialty to apply for, they had always wanted to take up a teaching post, or they failed to get a training post. A dedicated teaching role will benefit anyone, regardless of their reasons for applying, but when choosing a post you should think about what you would like to achieve.

My clinical teaching fellowship funded a postgraduate certificate in medical education and the study days brought together the other clinical teaching fellows from different parts of the region. At these sessions we spoke about our successes and failures, innovations, and how we managed struggling students.

As a clinical teaching fellow I also had one day a week for clinical activities, which was useful for gaining tasters in radiology and meeting clinicians. Although my particular fellowship was less focused on educational research, I did present my teaching innovations at the national Association for the Study of Medical Education conference.

Teaching anatomy for 10 months has dramatically improved my anatomy knowledge, which has given me a huge advantage at the start of my radiology training. Equally, those preparing for surgical exams or considering surgical training would find themselves in the same position. I received some informal training on teaching as an anatomy demonstrator, but most of my development as a teacher in this role was from observing seniors.

Both roles offer opportunities to gain experience in teaching, meet other doctors with an interest in teaching, and experience in running, marking, and standard setting examinations. My clinical teaching fellow post gave me more opportunities to adapt to my students’ learning needs, teaching variety, opportunities to use teaching innovations, a funded postgraduate certificate in education, and set clinical sessions. While in my anatomy demonstrator post I taught many more students and gained more experience in public speaking to larger groups. My anatomy knowledge has greatly improved and I have designed and delivered external courses.

Choose the right role

Both clinical teaching fellow and anatomy demonstrator roles at different institutions have different job specifications, so you should research your chosen role and, if possible, find out more from those who have been or are currently in that post.

To conclude, I believe both roles have improved my ability to be a better teacher and doctor, and I recommend either post to anyone interested in teaching. Enjoy the year (or two) spent without a bleep.

Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: I have completed a clinical teaching fellowship at the University of Bristol at the Bath Academy and an anatomy demonstrator post at the University of Bristol.


  1. Furmedge D, Verma A, Iwata K, et al. The rise of the clinical teaching fellowships. BMJ Careers  2013. [Link] .
  2. Shaker H. The anatomy demonstrator. BMJ Careers  2009. [Link] .
  3. Mirza O, Steven R. Experiences of anatomy demonstrating. BMJ Careers  2013. [Link] .

David Roberts radiology trainee, South Wales Deanery, UK

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: