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Supporting Trainees with Career Planning

How can I support my trainees with their career planning?
What can I expect from my trainee during any kind of career conversation?
What other support is available for my trainee?

How can I support trainees with their career planning? 

Offering career support is a 2 way process - you (the trainer/supervisor) aren't there to tell your trainee what you think is the 'right' specialty for them or to offer your own biased opinions. Similarly, the trainee isn't a passive recipient in the process, expecting to be 'told' which specialty to go into or to be spoon-fed. By having an appreciation of the career planning process and the tools, resources and tasks that can help, you can offer a structure that guides the trainee to work towards making realistic and informed decisions about their careers. 

Use our 5 stage career framework to help with the career planning process. The Health careers website also offers a useful career planning structure for both you and your trainees to refer to.

Key terms used in careers support:  

Careers information
Offering specific information and checking doctors know where to find/access it. E.g. medical careers website, royal colleges, careers sections of deanery websites and specialty training sites.

Career advice
Offering time for the trainee to clarify or check out information which can help them to progress their career planning in some way. Advice should avoid being leading, biased, judgmental or at worst, incorrect. The goal with advice is for the trainee to clarify something for them self and decide on next steps.

Career guidance
Offering space and time for a trainee to explore their career situation in more depth, evaluating options and creating action plans to support their decision making and career progress.

Career counselling
Offering specialised careers support by an experienced careers practitioner who has undergone formal training in careers advice and guidance.

Definitions adapted from the work of Ali and Graham (1996), Kidd (2006) and Nathan and Hill (2008). See full references in reading list at the bottom of this page.

Take a look at our 10 point check list below to use as part of any career conversation you have with trainees at any level of their career progression.

View the key skills in offering career support. Additional information to inform your career discussions and other support available to assist career conversations further. View additional career coaching questions to assist career discussions with your trainees. Consider what you should expect from trainees during any kind of career conversation.

A 10 point checklist

  1. Use a structure to support any career conversation with the trainee and use key skills in offering career support for clarifying, exploring, summarising and action planning
  2. Build an open, honest and constructive relationship with the trainee to facilitate self-understanding
  3. Provide specific, objective and up to date information in a timely way, assisting in interpretation when appropriate
  4. Take interest in the individual and be committed to helping
  5. Help the trainee to explore new perspectives they may not have considered
  6. Offer constructive challenge but avoid being directive or judgemental; offer informed but unbiased opinions and feedback
  7. Tailor your use of language to the trainee such that a shared vocabulary is used
  8. Work together on forming strategies; review progress and adapt plans when needed; assist in goal setting and clarifying actions
  9. Empower the trainee with confidence and skills to make realistic well informed career decisions
  10. Know your own limitations and be aware of available sources of additional support

This 10 Point Checklist has been adapted from Association for graduate careers advisory services - agcas (2006). Careers Education Benchmark Statement. Sheffield: agcas and Kidd, JM; Hirsh W and Jackson C (2004). Straight Talking - the nature of effective career discussions at work. Journal of Career Development 20 231-45

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What can I expect from my trainee during any kind of career conversation?

In some ways, these are expected of any doctor as part of their educational development and therefore should be no different in terms of career development

Helpful trainee behaviours

  • Proactive in seeking out help
  • Well prepared for any meetings; brings along key documentation when required
  • Willingness to be helped
  • Aware of own strengths, skills and motivations
  • Honesty with self and others
  • Realistic
  • Approaches issues with an open mind
  • Considers a range of options
  • Takes responsibility for own career learning
  • Takes appropriate action

Trainee behaviours that may be more challenging to support

(The following list could also mean that the trainee is struggling in some way and needs additional support to enable greater self-reliance and insight).

  • Just waits for help to come along
  • Doesn't make effort to find info or source people who can support
  • Wants to be spoon fed and told what career path to follow
  • Apathy - can't be bothered
  • Pressure from peers/ family getting in the way
  • Doesn't listen
  • Tunnelled in thinking
  • Rejects offers of support
  • Blames others for situation
  • Procrastinates, sticks head in the sand
  • Struggles to identify issues 

Additional information to inform career discussions

The following additional information can help you in your conversations with trainees;

  • Be proactive about discussing career plans with your trainee at each meeting you have with them - even if it appears to be covering old ground or revisiting topics already discussed, new career insights may emerge and trainees may identify additional actions and tasks they need to carry out to progress their next steps.
  • Explore with your trainees what evidence and insights they have into their career direction and choices so far - have they spoken to people in the areas that interest them? Have they thought about strengths and weaknesses? What events have they been to? What documentation do they have which support or challenge their choices? Consider using the career audit tool to prompt discussion with your trainees to review their progress so far and explore what they need to work on.
  • Be prepared to offer constructive and helpful feedback and offer observations on what you hear/see/think/feel. Use a process of clarifying/exploring/summarising/action planning to keep any conversations focussed and on track. If new topics arise, consider booking separate time to discuss these.
  • Offering career support is a two-way process - encourage trainees to take ownership over their own careers; you aren't there to solve everything for them or give them all the answers, but you CAN often signpost and support the trainee by offering a largely confidential, trusting and constructive relationship. Make sure you follow up any actions you agree to on their behalf.
  • Be prepared to offer constructive feedback based on your knowledge of the trainee, but take care not to lead the trainee wherever possible. Your job is to facilitate their thinking and understanding of themselves.
  • Recognise your own limitations in terms of knowledge, skills and abilities. Refer to the careers team on supporting trainees with their career planning.
  • Ensure that any actions are documented by the trainee in some way. Sometimes, it can be helpful to use an action planning template to make a record of items discussed, so that these can be reviewed and modified if needed at future meetings.

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What other support is available for trainees?

Group support

You may choose to support your trainees through providing small group workshops to help them with particular aspects of career planning. This can be extremely valuable in terms of peer support and time efficiency on your part. Depending upon your experience and knowledge you may feel comfortable planning this yourself.  However, the careers team would be happy to work with you to develop or tailor a workshop for a specific need, for example for foundation trainees, specialty trainees, SAS doctors or another specific group.  Please contact us to discuss your needs further.

Web based resources

The national Medical Careers website offers a dedicated section for trainers with information on how to support trainees in their career planning and decision making, as well as providing further information on how to explore specialty choice with trainees and to support them with career dilemmas.

Psychometric testing

Psychometric assessment can offer a way of increasing self-awareness of preferences with a view to aiding career choice and progression. The careers team may be able to offer psychometric assessment as part of a package of careers support subject to agreement with the trainee, for example the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Please contact us to find out more.

Training available for educational supervisors and trainers who have a career support role 

Under development - new e-learning module for Educational Supervisors coming soon. Contact us to help shape and tailor this new module to your needs.

Workshops to support trainees with their career planning.

Your career, your life, your direction! workshops (AKA "Windmills") - we welcome observers to our core career support workshops in F1 which are usually held during February/March each year. These workshops can also be tailored to any grade of doctor including specialty trainees, SAS doctors, consultants and GPs. Please contact us if you would like to find out more about observing a session or tailoring a session to your trainee's needs.

Referrals to the Careers Team

An important part of your role in offering careers support is to recognise your limitations in terms of experience, skills and abilities in supporting trainees. If you have been providing support to a trainee but you feel that more specialised career support would be helpful for them, please contact us to discuss next steps and encourage your trainee to make contact with us.

Referrals to the Professional Support Unit (PSU)

The Professional Support Unit (PSU)  is a further specialised service  for trainees who may be experiencing personal or professional difficulties which may be impacting directly or indirectly upon their performance and that require additional support.

What other career support resources should I be aware of as a trainer/ educational supervisor?

  • The Health Careers - the site is for medical students, foundation doctors, specialty trainees and trainers alike and includes a variety of specialty information as well as a suite of career planning tools which trainees can freely use. It also hosts a very useful section on supporting trainees. View the video introduction from the site to get an overview of the content and key sections that can be useful to you as a trainer/supervisor.
  • Specialty training website - details the process around recruitment and selection into specialty training.
  • Royal College websites - list of college addresses and web links.
  • BMJ Careers - useful topical articles and key career topics.
  • BMA Counselling Service - The BMA offers 24 hour counselling services.
  • Doctors Support Line - Provides peer support for doctors and medical students in the UK. Staffed by volunteer doctors.
  • Home Office - Government site which provides information on eligibility to work in the UK.
  • View our section on considering alternative career options for doctors thinking about leaving medicine. Beyond Clinical Practice - Designed for doctors or recent graduates who are considering a non-clinical career. The Royal Medical Benevolent Fund offers information and support on alternative careers for doctors.
  • Taster sessions for foundation doctors - view information about applying for tasters during foundation. Taster Days are available in the F1 and F2 year and are great resource that can be used to access experience in specialties trainees may be considering as a future career. A total of 10 days is available over the two-year training programme, the foundation schools recommend taking 5 days during F1 and the remainder in F2.
  • The Gold Guide - Reference Guide for Postgraduate Specialty Training in the UK.

Reading List

  • Ali, L and Graham, B, (1996) The Counselling Approach to Careers Guidance. London: Routledge
  • Kidd JM (2006) Understanding Career Counselling: theory, research and practice. London. Sage
  • Nathan, R and Hill L. (2008). Career Counselling. London: Sage
  • Hirsh W, Jackson C and Kidd J (2001) Straight Talking: effective career discussions at work. National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling (NICEC), Cambridge
  • Jackson C, Hirsh W and Kidd J (2003) Informing Choices. The need for career advice in medical training. National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling (NICEC), Cambridge
  • Association for graduate careers advisory service - agcas (2006). Careers Education Benchmark Statement. Sheffield: agcas

Copies of all of the above can be borrowed from The Careers Team.

Further Resources

View our download library for key tools, further resources and support which can help your trainee. A sample of some key resources you may find useful to explore include:


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