Gaining a competitive edge through research and audit

Authors: Alethea Tan, Jugal N Patel 

Publication date:  06 Jul 2016

Trainees who complete extra projects will stand out from the crowd, say Alethea Tan and Jugal Patel

The increasing number of medical students means that it is becoming harder for juniors to secure the subspecialty training post they want.[1] National selection criteria for posts has changed over the last decade and there is now a greater emphasis on research experience and involvement in clinical governance.[2]

Candidates who have experience in research or who have completed audits on top of their routine work are often seen by employers as tenacious, dedicated, disciplined, and as having good time management skills.

The changes to the selection criteria reflect the core principles outlined by Good Medical Practice [ 3 ] : safety and quality. Two of the four domains for core guidance for doctors in Good Medical Practice stress the importance of doctors’ involvement in research and audits.[4] This is echoed again in the final report of the Shape of Training review.[5]

This article discusses the important considerations for those who have little experience in either research or audit but are keen to get involved. We advise consideration of the four Ps: planning, people, presentation, and publication.


Start early. These days, medical students graduate with at least one publication, if not more, to their name.

It’s best to get involved in audits and research during undergraduate training, when you will have more time—one of the biggest challenges for doctors undertaking these types of projects is the lack of time. Current training schemes involve rotation blocks of four to six months so it is important to express interest in research or audit early on in your placement.

While the prospect of having multiple projects running simultaneously is very appealing, successful completion of a task is important. Uncompleted audits or research projects are not recognised to the same degree as completed ones.

It may be worthwhile, if short of time, to become involved with a small project that can be presented locally and submitted as an abstract to a relevant conference.


Good teamwork makes the task easier and more enjoyable. While there are simple audits that could be executed solo, in larger scale audits and research a team made up of members with different roles is usually needed.

All trusts should have a clinical governance department which provides guidance and assistance. Not all trusts will have a research and development department, but if there is one it’s worth paying a visit to find out more about potential research and how to get involved.

If you are unable to find a research project it is important that you demonstrate your interest and your understanding of the processes involved in research. You can do this by attending conferences where “hot topics” in specialties are discussed. You could approach and work with seniors to organise and deliver teaching to undergraduates and junior doctors on the principles behind research.


Completed audits should be presented to inform the department of areas requiring improvement. Most trusts issue a certification of completion of audit following submission of report or a copy of audit presentation. These certificates should be filed in the portfolio as proof of involvement.

Research projects should also be presented at scientific meetings to share your findings and also to gain opinions, which will help you critique your study to improve it.

Presentations give you points in the CV station at interviews so keep a copy along with the scientific meeting agenda where you presented your work.


Publications come in various forms: original articles, review, case reports, short communication, and letters. Short communication, letters, and case reports are easier to publish. They usually consist of an opinion, an interesting unreported or novel case study, or a response to a published article.

Most people find writing for a scientific journal difficult. It requires absolute focus and takes time.

It is worth investing in a citation manager programme—for example, Papers for Mac, EndNote, or Zotero, among many others—to help with referencing your paper.

Each journal has author guidance that outlines their articles’ format. Some journals charge a processing fee and this is usually stated on their webpage. Not all journals are Pubmed cited and it’s important to note this before submitting your paper.

Last, but not least, you must clarify authorship with other team members. Nothing is more disheartening than putting in the hard work and not being acknowledged as a co-author.


This is not a substitute for guidance for national training applications. As person specifications vary between levels of training and between specialties, we suggest you refer to national selection guidance issued by the relevant authorities.

The authors have no conflicts of interests to declare.


  1. Universities UK. Patterns and trends in UK higher education 2014. 2014. [Link] .
  2. NHS. Person specification 2015: general surgery. 2015 [Link] .
  3. General Medical Council. Good medical practice 2013: domain 1: knowledge, skills and performance. 2013. [Link] .
  4. Council GM. Good Medical Practice 2013. Domain 2: Safety and quality. 2013; Available from: [Link] .
  5. Shape of Training. Securing the future of excellent patient care: Final report of the independent review Led by Professor David Greenaway Oct 2013: London.

Alethea Tan plastics registrar  Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford
Jugal N Patel core surgical trainee  Basildon Hospital, Essex

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: