Nathan Booth is a researcher in the GMC’s surveys team. He helps analyse the results of the national training survey (NTS). In the run up to the survey closing, Nathan looks at what’s different this year and why it’s important to complete the survey.

What is the NTS?

Every year, we survey doctors to get their views on their postgraduate training and the environments where they work. Our trainer survey asks tailored questions to understand the perspectives of clinical and/or educational supervisors. Over the years, we’ve worked with doctors and their training bodies to develop the question set, to make sure the survey gives us a relevant and holistic insight into their perceptions and experiences.

Why are we running the survey this year?

Having postponed the NTS earlier in the year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, our team took a step back to consider the right course of action. Would running an NTS later in the summer be feasible, especially in terms of our ask of trainees and trainers? And how could we make sure the data would still be valuable to those responsible for managing postgraduate training, especially given the rapidly evolving impact of, and response to, the pandemic?

Having spoken to key partners across medical education, it was clear that there was still an appetite for the survey; most shared our view that in the current climate the NTS – even in a revised form – remains an important tool for assuring training quality.

An opportunity

It also became clear from our internal and external discussions that the NTS represented a unique opportunity to capture the experiences of trainees and trainers working through an exceptional period. We wanted to give doctors a platform to summarise their key concerns as well as potential positive learning outcomes. So we’ve introduced two ‘free text’ sections where trainees and trainers can briefly share their biggest concern and summarise any good practice they’ve encountered. These are designed to capture high-level themes and issues only. However, we’ve taken on board early feedback to increase the character limit; it’s clear many respondents wanted the opportunity to provide a bit more detail. With thousands of responses our team will have lots of comments to code and analyse over the coming months.

The tailored survey also has an increased emphasis on how doctors have been affected by the pandemic, as well as how their working practices and training have changed. We’ve added new questions to help us understand the impact of the pandemic on wellbeing and support, alongside our usual questions on workload and burnout.

What else is different?

This year, we’ve shortened the survey in some areas to reduce the time it takes to complete – it should now take less than 10 minutes. However, we’ve made sure that the responses will still provide us with the information we need to check on the quality of training, and to make sure it’s being delivered in environments where patients are safe.

The survey is accessed through a weblink rather than via GMC Connect, which means it’s also mobile-friendly.

How will the results help, and how can I find out more?

We’ll use the results to work with postgraduate deans, royal colleges and employers to tackle concerns, share good practice and help to develop safe, supportive and inclusive training environments. In particular, the questions about the pandemic will enable us to identify important learning points that could help the health services and employers prepare for similar events in future.

We’ll publish high-level findings in a report later in the year, alongside a reporting tool where you can view the aggregated data. We’ll also provide more granular breakdowns to help partners and employers make improvements based on the results.

Finally…

It goes without saying that 2020 has been an unusual and challenging year for everyone, and especially those working in healthcare. The summer NTS will provide us with a unique insight into how trainees and trainers have experienced these challenges. That’s why I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the data analysis. I’m particularly interested to read any examples of good practice that doctors have shared. Anecdotally, I’ve heard some positive stories that have come out of the response to the pandemic – especially around teamworking – so it will be fascinating to see if this is borne out in the data and free text comments.

The NTS is open until Wednesday 12 August. Please take 10 minutes to complete it.