How to become a hospital doctor

What does it involve?

To become a hospital doctor in the UK, you need to complete a medical degree and many years of training. Medical school is competitive, so you need good grades, relevant work experience, commitment and lots of enthusiasm. You should be prepared for ten or more years of study and workplace training.

Becoming a doctor involves:

  • Good grades in Science A Levels, or a Science Foundation course
  • A high level of English
  • A medical degree, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
  • Foundation Training as a Junior Doctor
  • Specialist Training in specific areas

Should I become a doctor?

It takes a lot of time and effort to become a doctor. So, it is important to make sure you are choosing the right profession for your skills, abilities and passions. 

Do I like working with people?

Doctors work with people every day, including patients and their relatives, other medical professionals and doctors, and management and administration staff. All medical professionals must want to help and care for others. 

Am I a team player?

You will need to rely on the skills and abilities of other professionals in your team, especially during medical emergencies. You will also need to support other members of your team, to help them do their job.

Am I prepared to work hard, for long hours?

Being a doctor is a high-pressure job. People will depend on doctors to cure illness, make them feel better and save lives. Doctors in the NHS (National Health Service) work long shifts, which may be during the night. They follow a rota (timetable of working hours).

Am I prepared to continually improve my skills and abilities and increase my experience?

Hospital doctors never stop learning because medical researchers discover new information, cures and medicines all the time. It is important for doctors to stay up to date with all the latest developments, so patients get the best possible care.

Do I take pride in presenting myself well?

Patients need to be able to trust that they are in safe, and clean, hands. It is essential for doctors to keep their white coat clean, dress smartly and have high standards of personal hygiene.

Steps to becoming a hospital doctor

There are four main steps to become a doctor:

You will need to achieve excellent A Level results to progress to an undergraduate medicine degree. A Science and Pharmacy Foundation is an alternative route into studying medicine.

Most Standard Entry Medicine courses take five years to complete. You will gain basic medical knowledge and practical workplace experience. Assessments include presentations, essays, written exams and practical tests. On completion, you’ll become a Junior Doctor.

You can apply for a two-year Foundation Programme during the final year of your degree. The programme involves several practical placements in different specialties and settings, such as maternity wards and A&E (Accident and Emergency). Work starts a few weeks after you graduate. You will be paid a salary. Read more about the Foundation Programme.

Foundation Year 1 (F1):

You’ll take responsibility of patients while under supervision. When you complete F1, you can apply for full registration with the General Medical Council (GMC).

Foundation Year 2 (F2):

You will still be supervised but will have greater responsibility for patients and decision-making. The Foundation Achievement of Competence Document (FACD) is awarded at the end of F2. 

You can apply for Speciality Training in the November of your F2 year. Areas of specialist training include: Core Medical Training, Acute Care Common Stem (ACCS), Core Surgical Training and sub-specialties such as Radiology and Paediatrics. 

The length and type of training depends on the area you specialise in. Training is often split into three years of Core Training and three years of Higher Training. Some sub-specialties may involve an additional two years, such as surgery or oncology (the study and treatment of tumours).

On completion, you will receive a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) and gain entry to the General Medical Council specialist register. 

How long do I need to study?

  • Medicine degree – 5 years
  • Foundation training – 2 years
  • Speciality training – up to 8 years

Hospital doctor job profile

Hospital doctor job profile - Getty Images

Understand the day-to-day responsibilities of a doctor and the skills you need to succeed. 

Medical School entry requirements

Medical school requirements vary, as they are set by each individual school. All schools require good A Level grades in Sciences. Work experience and excellent communication skills are also important.

You can apply for up to four medical courses through the UCAS system. The deadline for applications is 15 October, one year before the start date. 

Discover which universities we have links with to see benefits such as guaranteed interviews at medical schools and conditional offers of progression.

Most medical schools ask for:

  • AAA or AAB at A Level (or equivalent), including Chemistry and/or Biology
  • An excellent personal statement
  • A successful interview
  • Admission test pass
  • Evidence of wider experience.

What GCSEs and A Levels do I need to be a doctor?

To study medicine in UK you need good grades in Science-related GCSEs and A Levels (or equivalent). You should also have good grades in any other subjects you study. The A Levels needed to be a doctor include Chemistry and Biology or Physics or Maths depending on the course. 

GCSEs

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A strong academic background will support your application for medical school. Ideally, you will have at least five GCSEs at grades A* or A, including English, Maths, and a grade B or above in Science.

A Levels

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The A Levels needed to be a doctor depend on the courses you apply to. For most courses, you need Chemistry A Level and at least one other science-based A Level. Some courses ask specifically for Biology.

Science and Pharmacy Foundation

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If you did not study a Science A Level subject, you may need to take a Science Foundation course before your medical degree. 

Interview

Applying for a place at medical school usually involves an interview. These interviews are challenging, so you will need to prepare in advance. You may be asked about your experience, personal interests, and why you want to become a doctor.

Admissions Test

Medical schools set an admissions test as part of the entry requirements. You will need to pass the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) or the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). You should check which one your course requires.

Wider experience

Medical experience will enhance your application. It shows that you have made the effort to find out what it is like to have a career in medicine. Experience could include: working in a hospital, volunteering at a nursing home, talking to doctors and medical students, attending events and talks.

How long does it take to become a hospital doctor?

For most people, it takes more than 10 years to become a hospital doctor. The exact length of time depends on the area you specialise in. 

Your time is divided into three main phases:

  • Standard Entry Medicine degree: 5 years 
  • Foundation training (F1 and F2): 2 years 
  • Speciality training: up to 8 years 

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Hospital doctors continue to train throughout their careers. The GMC requires all doctors to keep up to date with the latest developments in medicine.

Career progression opportunities for hospital doctors

Hospital doctors have a range of exciting career options and specialisms to choose from. Areas of expertise include Anaesthetics, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology and Surgery.

Becoming a consultant

Most doctors choose to become consultants. Consultants train and supervise a team of doctors, and are fully responsible for their own work.

You can apply for consultancy roles six months before you receive your Certificate of Completion of Training. Most positions require additional training.

Opportunities as a consultant

  • Clinical lead within a team
  • Clinical director of a department
  • Medical director within a trust.

Working outside the UK

UK-trained doctors are highly respected and have the opportunity to work in other countries. Each country sets its own standards, so you should check the country’s individual requirements first and you may need to apply for new licences.

Providing medical aid 

Some hospital doctors work overseas in areas that lack adequate medical care. Work can be paid or unpaid, and for short or long periods of time. 

Aid work could include:

  • Treating malnourished people in drought-prone regions
  • Administering anti-malarial treatments 
  • Providing medical help in conflict zones.