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Back in Orbit: HEYH School of Ophthalmology initiative for trainees returning from time out

The School of Ophthalmology recognises the specific challenges faced by trainees when returning to work after time out (e.g. for parental leave, sick leave, career break or OOP). Guided by the findings of a regional survey in 2020 of current and former trainees who have experience of this, we have developed a toolkit of resources for educational supervisors, college tutors and returning doctors to aid re-integration into training following time away. 

Educational Supervisors and College Tutors will support these trainees in arranging a protected adaptation period upon return, individualised to the trainee's needs. This will require some planning, and trainees are encouraged to be pro-active in raising and discussing their needs with the supervisors prior to planned leave, and upon their return. The relevant documents can be found at the bottom of this page:  (1) Return to Work Guide, (2) Educational Supervisor Meeting Checklist, and (3) Protected Adaptation Period Planning Tool. They are intended for use in conjunction with the HEYH SuppoRTT guidance. 


Who is this programme for?

If you are a current specialty trainee in ophthalmology  about to take or returning from time-out-of-training for a period of 3 months or longer, for any reason, then this guidance is for you.

Common reasons for time out include parental leave, sickness absence, career breaks and out-of-programme (OOP) activities. Prolonged time away from training can often impact on the experience of returning to work, unless this is accounted for with a return-to-work plan. This is especially true if the reason for time away is unrelated to clinical work. 

We advise trainees planning to take time out to discuss their anticipated needs in advance with their educational supervisors and college tutors, so that plans can be made to accommodate their needs upon return. You will need to be pro-active and organised, and the guidance available here, used together with the resources offered by the Deanery SuppoRTT programme, will help you plan a smoother return to work.

What steps do I need to take before I step out of training?

supportt_graphic_2.pngAs soon as you know you plan to take time out of training, make sure you familiarise yourself with HEYH's SuppoRTT programme


Inform your ES and College Tutor of your upcoming absence, and arrange to meet your ES to discuss your anticipated needs upon your return. Common needs identified from our survey included: 1) a plan for returning to confidently performing cataract surgery,  2) support with regaining skills and confidence in emergency ophthalmology, i.e. acute/casualty clinics and out-of hours work, and 3) support with regaining skills and confidence in subspecialty areas (more applicable to senior trainees and TSCs). Consider what is likely to be most relevant in your case and make a pre-departure plan with your ES.

Make sure you complete the SuppoRTT Pre-Absence Form with your supervisor, ideally within 3 months of the start date of your time away, and upload a copy to your e-portfolio.

Is there anything I can do while away to improve my return experience?

First of all, make the most of your time away and do not worry about clinical work and training! However, you may find the following helpful:

If taking parental leave:

Look into Keep-in-Touch (KiT) days and learn about the local process in your Trust. These are paid days at work (up to 10) that you can take during parental leave. Make sure you liaise with HR, payroll and your clinic managers to let them know of your intention to use these and ensure you get paid for them. They can be spent on clinical sessions (theatre, clinics), as well as training sessions such as simulation or courses. Look out for local courses e.g. trauma or subspecialty skills courses running in our wet-labs during your time out. You can also contact the Simulation Lead to arrange sessions for yourself in the wet-lab if you want to focus on any particular skills, as well as also book on to the nearest EyeSi simulator.

Other types of TOOT, e.g. OOP:

Make sure you keep your logbook up-to-date if participating in any surgery, and keep a record of any clinical sessions you have attended.

Consider whether locum emergency work is an option e.g. if there is a financial need or if such work is relevant to your OOP/skills upkeep.

If your OOP affords you the flexibility, organise simulation sessions if you need these. 

How do I organise my return to work?

Start thinking about this in the final 3 months of your time away. For shorter periods of time out e.g. < 6 months, it would be prudent to make all arrangements before you step out of training, and send follow-up emails to relevant parties in your department about 8-10 weeks before your return date to confirm that plans are in place. 

Arrange a meeting with your educational supervisor, allowing adequate time for plans to be put in place (allow 8-10 weeks minimum for plans to be actioned).

  • We have made a checklist that you can download, which lists all relevant points for you and your ES to review when discussing your return. See ES checklist in the documents at the bottom of this page.
  • Draft a timetable with your ES to plan your adaptation period using the planning tool at the bottom of this page.This period is typically 4-6 weeks, but we encourage you to come up with an individualised plan with your ES. 
  • Make sure you complete the SuppoRTT Initial Return meeting form with your ES and upload this to your portfolio.
  • You will need the support of your ES and College Tutor, who will need to communicate with your department managers and admin teams to organise supernumerary clinics, buddied on-calls and theatre lists. Your ES can approach the SuppoRTT team if any additional resources are needed for you. 

Contact the Simulation Lead to organise wet-lab dates you are planning to timetable in to your adaptation period.

Contact HR, medical staffing and clinic managers confirming your return date and timetable needs.

Contact Occupational Health if relevant for you.

Arrange to join SuppoRTT generic courses (RTT-A)

Peer support: Connect with other returning trainees in your specialty, and speak to trainees who have experienced this before. If a number of you are returning at around the same time, you might be able to timetable wet-lab sessions/courses together. 

Reviewing your progress

Towards the end of the adaptation period, arrange a review meeting with your ES. The purpose of this meeting is to identify any additional support or time required, or to sign you off as ready for the standard work pattern. Your ES will need to communicate the need for any remaining requirements to all relevant parties. Record this meeting using the HEYH SuppoRTT Review Meeting form, and upload this to your portfolio in the PDP section. 

We hope that by following this process you will have a smooth and supported experience of returning to work after time out of training. If you experience any issues with the process please raise these locally first with your ES and College Tutor, and you can also feed back to your TPD.