As trainees we had the joy of ARCP – the Annual Review of Competency Progression. A panel of people including our Training Programme Directors, Advisory Committee Liaison members, Consultants and others sit every year with additional members drawn from HEE, military, academia as needed.

The objective is to review all the evidence for the year and determine how the trainee is progressing. In an ideal world the ARCP also presented trainees with opportunities to raise concerns and discuss issues with a view to strategizing for the future.

I have some fond memories of the ARCP. I was lucky to have a solid Training Programme Director who was a terrific person all round, but unfortunately it didn’t really make the prospect of me sitting in front of a group of people and feeling like I was being judged any easier.

The build-up to the was pretty easy. We had the JCST documents and checkpoint attainments so were able to know what was expected. The bigger issue on occasion was getting everything, particularly logbook experience. Once I was sent out on rotation with a particular target of getting my knee replacement numbers and due to winter bed pressures and consultant absence, I only got 5 TKRs in my 6 months there. Obviously, this raised eyebrows at the ARCP but these were more for the fact that if I was struggling then the question was whether it an issue with me or an issue with the hospital where I was based. Thankfully the eyebrows settled when I provided evidence of getting all my hand and wrist competencies.

There were only ever two people on the panel who were genuinely horrid. I remember one of my colleagues putting down a hobby that riled a non-clinical panel member so much that they emphatically declared that they would throw that person’s application in the bin if it ever landed on their desk. In a similar way, this individual was highly critical of my research for the entire time I was doing my PhD, but when I presented it to the panel completed and successfully defended, they just went after the fact that I hadn’t done sufficient audit.

The other guy unfortunately wielded more power and at the time of the following anecdotes I took them as tongue in cheek comments but if those statements were made now they wouldn’t be considered acceptable. The two most standout comments were when I asked about study funding for a course and was told that if I had money issues that I should sell my car as it is my career on the line. The second occasion was when I raised a concern about bullying behaviour by a senior colleague and I was told that I was too big to be bullied. (disclosure – I’m 6ft4 and on side of nutritional overachieving these days)

But ultimately I got Outcome 1 (achieving at current rate – no added time) on 6 occasions, Outcome 2 (focused training, no added time) on 1 occasion and an Outcome 6 (completion of training) at the end.

In hindsight my colleagues and I always went to the ARCP not expecting praise, but hoping to avoid criticism and I don’t think in the formality of the setting I ever expected or wanted anything more than ‘Satisfactory’. However, with everything that I did, I do sometimes wish I had more recognition of it by the Panel.

As a TPD for Core Surgery I then sat on ARCP panels and the first round that I was involved with had two new outcomes related to COVID. It was very difficult to assess people and their portfolios when COVID annihilated all elements of training. But despite this we recognised the resilience in so many of our trainees and I personally made sure that every trainee I engaged with via the panel and I had to call with results had recognition of the good work they had done.

I saw some phenomenal trainees and I’m not just referring to their achievements. The character of many of them was inspirational. I don’t do many ARCPs now due to my changing job role. But the ARCP process has evolved since I was last involved. How much of an improvement is felt by everyone is a topic for debate but ultimately as a trainee you must engage and do all the paperwork needed (however tedious it feels). As a panel member, it wouldn’t kill you to praise someone who has done good work.

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