Course Review

Highland surgical boot camp—an apprenticeship in a week

Authors: Katharine Hamlin, David Finlayson 

Publication date:  14 Apr 2012

Surgical training has changed: the apprenticeship model of training is dead, but what has taken its place? NHS Highland has developed the Highland surgical boot camp to help tackle this challenge.

Who is it for?

The boot camp is aimed at trainees at the beginning of their careers: early years specialty or core trainees and surgically minded foundation doctors. My course had nine participants from foundation year 1 to core training year 2.

Where is it held, and who are the faculty?

The excellent new Centre for Health Sciences at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness is a new facility with state of the art wet labs, clinical simulators, and a mock ward.

The course was developed and is led by the general surgeons Angus Watson and Kenneth Walker, but the faculty included an orthopaedic surgeon, programme directors, a palliative care consultant, and experts from the Scottish patient safety programme.

What is required before the course?

A keen interest in surgery and a desire to succeed are all that are needed. The course is skills based and thus requires no pre-course textbook or dreaded multiple choice question paper. The focus is trainee driven: advance communication enables the faculty to establish participants’ aims and goals and—one of the most important aspects of the course—to adapt the course to the needs of the individual.

What does it involve?

Boot camp is not just a name. Each day starts at 7 30 am with a journal club, after a walk to the centre. The day is filled with tutorials, workshops, and moulage, leading to a working dinner accompanied by memorable cases. In keeping with the boot camp theme, an activities day allowed us to let off some steam in the beautiful Scottish countryside.

What does it teach?

Journal club—“Research for Dummies,” run by Angus Watson, is an entertaining and informative crash course on research and how to conduct it. It ends with the chance to write and publish a short article as a group.

Technical skills—Bowel anastomosis and tendon repair are taught on an almost individual basis, and with two sessions on each you can really hone your skills.

Non-technical skills—These include situation awareness, decision making, leadership, team working, and communication skills and are covered in tutorials on trauma and complications, a ward round moulage, participation in a video linked multidisciplinary team meeting, and an individualised communication skills session, in which you relive your cringe-worthy moments.

How are you assessed?

No formal assessments take place, but trainees can gain simulated Intercollegiate Surgical Curriculum Programme workplace based assessments. The need for competition that most surgical trainees have is satisfied with a bowel anastomosis challenge.

What does it cost?

The cost is £975 for the week long residential course and an extra £85 for the outdoor activities day, which is optional. This represents great value for money not only for the five star accommodation and excellent food (all meals are included) but for the access to knowledgeable and enthusiastic trainers.

Was it worth it?

Definitely. This course demonstrates and then tests the indeterminable skills of surgical excellence, thus enabling self development. We aren’t going to be spoon fed in our training, and we don’t have time to figure it out from watching others; we must therefore take control of our own training, and this course is a first step. In our opinion such a course should become a requirement of early years’ training. It is an excellent shortcut to succeeding in surgery, but it can only point you in the right direction—the rest depends on you.

Further information

Email the course coordinator, Mary MacKay, at

Competing interests: None declared.

Katharine Hamlin year 2 specialist trainee in trauma and orthopaedics, North of Scotland Deanery, UK
David Finlayson consultant in trauma and orthopaedics, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, UK

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: