How To Become A Doctor

Becoming a doctor in the UK is a long process and if you have studied an undergraduate degree already you
might baulk at the thought of starting an undergraduate medical degree all over again. There are options for graduates to become doctors that do not involve the full training and once you have become a doctor further postgraduate study will focus and specialise your career. 

What does being a doctor actually involve? 

In the UK the for, the majority of Doctors, being a Doctor involves working for the NHS, although there a small number of other career paths available. Prospective medical students are required to have some key skills such as an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses, genuine interest in medicine, academic ability, honesty, treating people with respect, resilience, excellent communication skills and an ability to deal with difficult circumstances. The unique set of demands of the job is reflected in these innate skills that doctors need to possess. There is a huge range of positions that doctors fulfil in the NHS, but what underlies the job for most doctors is helping people by diagnosing and treating illness. 

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What undergraduate qualifications do you need? 

If you don't already have an undergraduate medical degree, then to gain access to an accelerated graduate medical degree course you will usually need at least an upper second class degree in a science-based subject, although this isn’t always the case. For example, the University of Nottingham accepts students with a lower second class undergraduate degree in any subject, along with substantial work experience and an excellent GAMSAT score. 

What postgraduate qualifications are on offer? 

Once you have completed your accelerated medical degree in four years – rather than five years for undergraduates – to become a doctor in the UK you must complete two further years of training known as Foundation Years. During these Foundation Years, medical students work in a rotation in hospitals and apply for positions through a central system. After the two Foundation Years students go on to specialise further. Those who wish to become General Practitioners treating individuals, families and the community from a single practice go on for a further three years of training. Those wishing to go onto higher speciality training such as General Internal Medicine, Anaesthesia or Acute Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, or Intensive Care Medicine, spend two years rotating around these areas and then a final year focusing on one area. Then after these three years, students who wish to go higher speciality training focus on their area of interest for two more years. 

Getting on the right career path

Doctors can go on to gain other postgraduate qualifications in many areas to further specialise their skills once they have completed their final three to five years of training. Masters level courses provide doctors with a chance to improve their skill sets further allowing them to change career paths. Finding the perfect job within the UK often involves moving around the large organisational structure of the NHS and further postgraduate academic study will help with this. Doctors can change careers by studying courses such as the Master of Surgical Education at Imperial College London to learn how to teach surgery skills to others. 

Work experience 

The path to becoming a doctor in the UK is highly structured and has the NHS at the heart of it. Students must gain relevant work experience before applying for their first medical degree, whether this is accessed as a graduate or not. This experience must be wide-ranging and students need to undertake a caring or service giving role on either a paid or voluntary basis before making an application to medical school. It is this initial work experience and other placements undertaken during the medical degree, which will ensure students gain the experience necessary to specialise in the area they want to. 

Student Case Study 

Joseph Middleton studied Pharmacology at Newcastle University for his first degree and is now studying the accelerated graduate program at Guy's, King's and St Thomas's School of Medicine. When he began his first undergraduate degree he had no interest in becoming a doctor, but when he had more contact with patients during his third and fourth years of his undergraduate degree he realised that this was what he'd really like to be involved with. The accelerated graduate program has allowed him to move more quickly into becoming a doctor. He recommends speaking with a broad range of doctors about what life is like working for the NHS before applying. And rather than simply talking to senior consultants, it’s also a good idea to speak with those who are in earlier phases of their career like Foundation Year Doctors.

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