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How to get a UK clinical attachment

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

Here is our summary of useful information that can help you understand what clinical attachment is, the benefits and challenges that come with it, and practical suggestions and tips for IMGs seeking clinical attachments in the UK.

What is a clinical attachment?

Completing a clinical attachment is not a requirement for GMC registration or working in the NHS, but it usefully contributes towards showing that you meet the standards expected of UK doctors. It will also help you prepare for working in the NHS, boost your confidence and enhance your chances of passing relevant exams and obtaining a job within the NHS shortly after getting your GMC registration.

Doing a clinical attachment is a great chance for IMGs to observe the workings of the NHS. This will allow you to get an overview of departments, NHS Trusts, relationships across the NHS, and the working lives of UK doctors. After completing, it will help you stand out from the crowd and allow you to talk knowledgeably about how things work in the NHS.

Clinical attachments are also requested by doctors returning to work after a career break or those who would like to obtain experience in a certain speciality before actually committing to it.

During the attachment, there is no clinical responsibility. However, after a period, you may perform some limited clinical duties under supervision, but this is at the discretion of the consultant. Keep in mind that individual NHS employers have their own stipulations.

The best time to do a clinical attachment is after passing PLAB 1 and shortly before taking PLAB 2 or after you have passed it. This ensures you will get the most out of it. However, if you have already obtained GMC registration, but struggling to find a job in the NHS - doing a clinical attachment can be a great way to gain some NHS experience and boost your medical CV.

The eligibility criteria differ from hospital to hospital. Commonly those are:

  • ID documents

  • at least one year of internship after completing medical school

  • passed PLAB Part I

  • preparing for/have passed PLAB Part 2

  • valid IELTS with a score of 7.5 or above

  • if applicable, another route to join the GMC Register, including holding suitable postgraduate qualifications

  • willingness to undertake Occupational Health checks

  • DBS certificate.

The approximate duration is usually 4 - 8 weeks with the majority of time spent on the wards, attached to a medical team, observing UK clinical practice and asking questions on how things in the NHS work.

According to the GMC 'during the clinical attachment, the doctor is not given any responsibility and is not able to make clinical decisions or give clinical advice. After a set period observing the consultant, the graduate may start to take on some limited clinical duties.'

Attachments can be done under a standard visitor visa, during which you can take the PLAB 2 test and complete the clinical attachment.

Some observerships are cost-free, while others may cost you £400 or more to cover the cost of the employer. You may want to apply for free options first, and consider paying for your observership if free options are not available.

Should I do a clinical attachment?

It is always a personal choice. As we mentioned earlier, is not a requirement for GMC registration or working in the NHS. You may want to look at clinical attachments as an opportunity to make your UK journey smoother - they will help you understand what is expected of you as a doctor, expand your clinical and work knowledge and demonstrate your commitment.

When applying for NHS jobs or presenting yourself at interviews, completing a clinical attachment will help you demonstrate knowledge and insight into how the NHS works. Although doing a clinical attachment does not guarantee you a job in the Trust you get the clinical attachment in, it is a great opportunity to build your professional network in the NHS.

It may not be easy to find a clinical attachment right now as some NHS Trusts have suspended them due to the pandemic. However, some hospitals do still run clinical attachment programmes or are planning to re-open them soon.

How do I find a clinical attachment?

There is no one-stop clinical attachment listing site where IMGs can go and access clinical attachment programmes. Knowing how important clinical attachments are for IMGs, we are working very hard to make TrewLink that site and give a better chance for IMGs to transition into the NHS as smooth as possible.

As for now, there are three ways to find a clinical attachment:

  • Search online for clinical attachment programmes

  • Ask colleagues, friends or family working in the NHS if they could introduce you to a consultant in your speciality

  • Email consultants directly by searching hospital websites and checking the departments you are interested in.

Some trusts run formal clinical attachment programmes:

How do I apply?

If you are applying for a formal clinical attachment programme, you just need to complete the application form and attach the required documents. You will definitely need to submit your medical CV. If you have done it already, please read our previous blog posts on how to write a CV for NHS jobs and CV for NHS jobs – 10 Do’s and Don’ts.

When crafting your covering letter, keep in mind that the NHS employer would probably want to know:

  • the stage of GMC registration you are at

  • a brief outline of your medical background

  • why you chose this particular Trust (their achievements, research facilities, or anything else)

  • why you decided to apply at this particular point in time

  • the objectives you hope to achieve during your attachments

  • your motivation for wanting to do a clinical attachment

Interested in hearing more valuable tips on how to find a UK clinical attachment?

Click here to watch a 1-hour interactive and engaging learning session to understand how to secure your clinical attachment with the NHS. Career development and learning professional from the British Medical Association will guide you through the whole process of finding and applying for your clinical attachment.

We hope this post has been helpful.

Good luck,

TrewLink team

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