Northern Deanery Foundation School: Training decision-making and priorities among foundation level doctors


  • Primary, perceptions research among trainee doctors, to understand how they went about choosing a location for postgraduate (foundation and specialty) training.
  • Marketwise Strategies worked closely with the Northern Deanery, to design an in-depth, multi-mode programme of qualitative, perceptions research that consulted with both year 1 and year 2 foundation doctors.
  • Research among trainees was underpinned by discussions with Deanery staff and by reviewing earlier research into trainee satisfaction and decision making.
  • The research findings have been disseminated widely across the Northern Deanery, at all levels (from the Board and senior management at individual NHS Trusts, to staff within administrative, trainee support, communications and marketing functions).
  • The study assisted the Northern Deanery in enhancing (i) the training experience, and (ii) its approaches to recruitment and retention of doctors on foundation and specialty training programmes.

Research requirements

Key objectives for the project focused upon:

  • Exploring perceptions of the Northern Deanery and individual Trusts
  • Understanding trainees’ decision-making processes when choosing where to undertake foundation and specialty training.
  • Identifying those factors that were – or could be – influenced by the Northern Deanery
  • Understanding the roles of and influence exerted by different players and information sources
  • Identifying ways in which the Deanery could increase trainee doctor recruitment and retention and enhance the training experience for foundation doctors, including at individual Trusts.


The research comprised:

Phase 1

  • Review of earlier perceptions research among trainee doctors at the Deanery.
  • Depth interviews with Deanery staff involved in supporting trainees.
  • Review of Northern Deanery marketing materials that were aimed at prospective foundation or specialty trainees.

Phase 2

  • Focus groups with year 2 foundation doctors across all nine Trusts in the Deanery.

Phase 3

  • Online (qualitative) survey with year 1 foundation doctors across all Trusts.


Marketwise Strategies delivered a detailed report that informed changes in a number of areas:

  • To guide longer term, strategic actions, the Northern Deanery established a Task and Finish Group, to review our research findings alongside research by the General Medical Council and the Deanery’s own annual survey of trainees. Together, those reports helped to guide changes not only to marketing but also to aspects of the foundation training experience.
  • In the short term, the Deanery also used the research to inform tactical changes to its marketing and its website, to provide clearer information and to highlight the issues that trainees told us really matter.

This has been an important piece of work informing our workforce planning and quality management strategy for the Deanery.

— Postgraduate Dean – Northern Deanery