Intended for healthcare professionals


Selecting the right postgraduate course in medical education

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 06 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:h6883
  1. Rashpal Ghataoura, FY2, Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust,
  2. Vikas Acharya, ST2 in neurosurgery, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham


Learning how to teach will not only set doctors apart from other candidates but is a skill that will serve them throughout their career, say Rashpal Ghataoura and Vikas Acharya

Applications to core and specialty training are becoming increasingly competitive, and foundation doctors are realising that additional postgraduate qualifications will help them get shortlisted for interview. Almost every candidate has good qualifications and a promising CV for interview selection, so it is important to stand out from the crowd. Completing a postgraduate course is one way to do this—it demonstrates intellectual curiosity and dedication to lifelong learning. The time management, research, and presentation skills that doctors acquire along the way will also serve them well.1

Most, if not all, core and specialty applications have a section dedicated to teaching, with many specialties giving points for a postgraduate qualification. One of the most useful courses for postgraduate study is medical or healthcare education. Even from early on in our careers the need to be able to teach well and pass on knowledge to our colleagues is important. Many medical schools are now incorporating these skills into their curricula.

Completing a course in medical education is not only good for your job prospects but can provide huge job satisfaction, especially if you love the subject and want to share your passion with tomorrow’s doctors. Teaching junior colleagues without boring them with didactic lessons can make your day to day clinical job a lot more interesting.2 You will never get bored as a teacher; students are creative learners, making even the most well prepared teaching session more exciting. Good teachers are flexible and adapt to whatever may come up.

However, before starting any kind of postgraduate study it is important to be aware of the time it will take up. A postgraduate course relies heavily on self directed learning, which requires commitment as well as time off clinical training and a potential cut in earnings.3 Students should take any opportunity to practise their new teaching skills at work. Medical students and other junior colleagues can be participants in your research projects.

What types of training are available?

Depending on how much time you have you can complete a full masters degree, a postgraduate diploma, or a certificate. Most institutions allow their students to exit before completing the full masters course and to gain either a PGDip or PGCert instead, depending on how many credits they have gained. In most cases each stage of the postgraduate medical education curriculum lasts a year, which makes planning and coordinating your life a lot easier. A postgraduate certificate can take as little as six months and will meet the selection criteria for most core/specialty and consultant/GP applications.

Most courses can be completed full or part time, and the majority of institutions—except the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Bristol, and Bedfordshire—allow distance learning. The University of Bristol offers a four day intensive course awarding students half the number of credits of a certificate in medical education. This is a good way to test whether you want to pursue a complete qualification or not.


Postgraduate courses are not cheap. On average, junior doctors spend £17 000 on postgraduate training before becoming a consultant.4 Training has many hidden costs, including for enrolment, travel, and resits. Many deaneries do not have funding for foundation doctors or trainees to undertake further study. But there are lots of places and people to approach for advice or support, including:

  • ● Hospital foundation training administrative staff

  • ● Local mess funds

  • ● Hospital medical education lead

  • ● Local foundation school or deanery

  • ● Various royal college websites give details of bursaries, grants, and prizes

  • ● Royal Society of Medicine grants

  • ● Individual university hardship funds

Despite the costs and the time learning how to teach is a valuable skill that will serve doctors throughout their career.

For a list of institutions that offer medical education courses and their entry requirements see the table.


  • Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on competing interests and have no relevant interests to declare.