Dr Eimear McCorry

More and more trainees are engaging in an Out Of Programme Experience (OOPE). Although doing an OOPE will extend your training time, I firmly believe that the experience is an invaluable one with so many benefits.

So whether are just considering it, or have firm plans in mind, whether you’ve decided where you want to go or you just have a vague idea of something you might be interested in – here are my tips for maximising your time gaining Out Of Programme Experience!

Decide what you want from your OOPE

People go ‘out of programme’ for so many reasons- it might be to gain clinical experience you won’t get within your training programme or region, develop a special interest,  maybe to travel and explore another part of the world, enhance your CV, gain new skills, perhaps you are striving for a change in pace…. the list is endless.

But whatever your reasons I recommend that you are clear from the start what you want to achieve. What is it that you want to have accomplished by the end of this time out of training?

Before you start, or at the earliest stage possible, make your personal development plan. Be ambitious but realistic, set clear goals and decide how you will evidence that these have been achieved. This will give you structure and focus, and when you look back at your year you will be able to easily recognise your achievements. It will also really help you write a strong application to make sure your OOPE plans are approved by your deanery!

Learn to manage your time

As doctors we have all developed the ability to prioritise tasks and time management skills in a clinical environment. However, I found that this doesn’t necessarily mean we are good at this in the non-clinical world.

During my time out of programme I was arranging and attending meetings, going to conferences, facing deadlines for pieces of work, more than I ever had before. It is easy to become overwhelmed by this.

Learn how to properly keep and manage a diary. Deliberately schedule time within your working week for administrative tasks.   Allow adequate time for each activity and don’t feel pressurised to squeeze so much into your day. Tasks can easily creep into what should be time off; ensure that you don’t find yourself doing lots in what would have traditionally should be time off to unwind.

Keep a portfolio

How to Create a Portfolio

I know that for some the idea of voluntarily keeping a portfolio might not appeal, however I found myself involved in so much and that I needed a way to ensure that I wouldn’t forget any achievements, big or small.  I documented the activities that I been engaged in when they were still fresh in my mind.

You can use this to tick those all-important requirements for ARCP as well as adding to your CV for years to come.

Using a free portfolio app like the FourteenFish Learning Diary makes it easy to record things on the go, and then download a summary later.

Continue those reflections…

Love it or hate it, there’s no escaping reflective practice! The role of reflection in training is well recognised and whilst some might view their OOPE as a chance to escape this for a while, I found it more relevant than ever. 

Staying engaged with reflective practice helped me to learn so much about myself. I reflected on the things that I felt had gone successfully as well as the things that had not gone as planned. I found that I could properly focus on those non-clinical skills that are of equal, or arguably, more importance in personal development but difficult to evidence. I was able to examine and reflect on my communication skills, my abilities to engage and influence people, my leadership skills. I’m not sure that I would have recognised all I’d achieved on a personal level without continuing the habit of reflection.

Get a supervisor

Having a supervisor is something that we all are familiar with in our training programme – your OOPE is no different in this respect and if you don’t already have someone allocated or named I definitely recommend finding one!

My supervisor helped me identify what I wanted to achieve educationally and professionally during my time. I had regular meetings with them which were an invaluable source of support as well as helping maintain momentum and focus. On a practical level your supervisor can also provide help for things like presentation and publications, look at things with a critical eye and provide advice or ideas you might not have thought of.

Find a mentor

A mentor is another person you very much need alongside you during your OOPE. Different from a supervisor, they should be viewed as someone you trust and who has experiences that you can draw from.

How to Be a Mentor

The role is perhaps less defined and less formal than that of your supervisor. Who your mentor is will very much depend on what type of role you are doing during your OOPE, but generally they should be experienced in the area in which you are spending your time out exploring.

Your mentor can be someone to confide in, to seek support from, bounce ideas off and ask advice from. They can share their insights and own experiences. They can be your cheerleader and a source of encouragement – a good mentor is worth their weight in gold.

Find an OOPE friend

As paediatricians we are a generally friendly bunch and tend to work together in teams. On an OOPE you might suddenly find yourself working in completely different way- you might not be attached to a traditional clinical team, you might find yourself doing far more work as a solo enterprise or perhaps, like me, you might be in a non-clinical role.  Adjusting to this different way of working, without your usual team around you, can feel isolating and lonely at times.

I found it vital to have an out of programme friend. Find someone in the same position as you, someone who understands the new challenges that you are facing, who appreciates the differences you are facing in working outside your normal environment. This person can become someone to run ideas past, help your brainstorm, to keep you positive. They will be an excellent source of support and camaraderie and counteract any loneliness you might feel.

Seize opportunities

Unexpected opportunities are likely to cross your path during your OOPE.

image credit Architect Magazine

It might be something you never would have thought of getting involved in, something perhaps you hadn’t seen yourself doing, something completely out of your comfort zone. I encourage you to try some of these things, seize the chance to do something different, who knows where it might lead.

Some of my most valuable experiences during my OOPE were things that I hadn’t anticipated and came upon me somewhat serendipitously.

…but also learn to say ‘no’

Although I recommend seizing unexpected opportunities you should also learn when to say no! I imagine most of us naturally try to please people so this may be easier said than done.

Take your time when presented with something. Does this sound like something I will enjoy? Does this fit in with my aims for the year? Will this open up other paths for me? If not- a polite but firm thanks but no thanks is completely acceptable.

Enjoy!

It might seem obvious but you should enjoy your OOPE. I’d been so caught up in training, rotas that were constantly short, making sure various training boxes were ticked and all the service demands that I was a little taken aback initially by what time out of programme could mean.

For the first time in many, many years I could take leave without trying to swap shifts, I had weekends off and I wasn’t exhausted by working a full time clinical post. I could begin a project and actually complete it. I had time to develop my CV and tackle things that had previously been set aside. I found my time on OOPE refreshing and energising and I was able to come back to training with renewed enthusiasm. 

Eimear’s OOPE

Eimear spent her OOPE year as an ADEPT Clinical Leadership Fellow. The ADEPT programme gives senior doctors in training time out of programme to work in an apprenticeship model with senior leaders in host organisations in Northern Ireland. ADEPT fellows receive formal training in aspects of leadership and the fellow is expected to lead a project within their host organisation. Eimear worked within the Southern Health and Social Care Trust leading a project to improve the delivery of postgraduate teaching and training, working across a range of specialties, with junior doctors, senior doctors, non-clinical staff as well as senior management figures within the organisation.

More resources to help you plan an OOPE – and a few of the other exciting opportunities out there!

London School of Paediatrics: OOPE Guidance

RCPCH Training Guide

RCPCH Global Links programme

FMLM National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellow Scheme

Darzi Fellowship Scheme

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