Considering a career in medicine? As one of the most respected and rewarding career options, it can be a great opportunity to develop a lifelong career in a sector that really makes a difference.

When most people think about careers in medicine, the first thing they think of is often a ward doctor striding around in a white lab coat with a stethoscope around their neck, however, there is far more career options within the sector than just this – but which could be for you? Read on to find out more…

1. Who suits a career in medicine?

As you can imagine, with such a diverse range of specialisms, every different speciality will need its own set of skills, but generally, to work in medicine you need to:

  • Enjoy working with others, both colleagues and patients
  • Need to have concern for those you are treating and work with
  • Be determined and decisive
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Be patient
  • Be enquiring
  • Hard working
  • Good at listening, as well as communicating

2. How do I become qualified?

There are three distinct stages to a career in medicine: medical school, foundation training and then speciality training.

It can take some time to become fully qualified, and the length of time to qualify depends on your entrance qualifications when going into medicine school, through to what specialism you want to train to work in.

For instance, if you wish to be a GP, then you can expect to train for up to ten years. Want to be a surgeon? This can take up to fourteen years!

The first stage is medical school or university, which can take four to six years depending on your entrance qualifications. Medical schools are located all around the UK and have close links with local hospitals and GP practices, to enable students to have real-life training and education opportunities, as well as classroom-based theory. Medical school will give you the basis of your training, giving you the knowledge and skills needed to go out safely, and effectively, into your foundation years.

To get into medical school, you’ll need excellent A Levels, and GCSEs, preferably in mathematics, and science-based subjects. Due to the nature of working in medicine, you’ll also need to evidence strong communications skills. If you don’t have these qualifications, some universities offer gateway or access programmes, to skill students up to the level expected to undertake a medicine degree programme.

Once you’ve completed this stage, you then move into your foundation programme, which takes up to two years. You’ll get to apply for your foundation year placement in your final year at medical school, and you’ll be provisionally registered as a doctor with GMC (General Medical Council) before starting your foundation training. 

The two-year programme gives you the opportunity to work in several different specialities and settings, and allows you to develop your clinical skills, with some handover of clinical responsibilities during this time. It also gives you the opportunity to become more clear what speciality you’d like to go onto in the next stage, but also gives some insight into what working as a doctor is like – both the appealing and not so appealing parts!

The final step is your speciality training, which varies in length, depending on which speciality you choose. This allows you to select from one of the over sixty available specialities, to give you the in-depth knowledge and experience, to practice fully as a doctor in the area you choose.

Once this final step is completed, you can then receive full registration to practice from the GMC and can then apply for work at UK healthcare settings.

3. What are my speciality options?

With over sixty speciality options ranging from psychiatry, surgery, anaesthesia and pathology, through to radiology, general practice, obstetrics and gynaecology, there really is something to cater to everyone’s interests.

Generally, there are two subsets of specialities – medical and surgical

Medical specialities include things like medical ophthalmology, medical oncology, palliative care to name just a few. This area of speciality forms the basis of diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease.

Surgical specialities include areas such as cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, alongside a whole host of other types of surgery – if you can think of a part of your body, there will be a speciality to operate on it!

Sitting alongside these two main subsets, you can also practice emergency medicine, anaesthetics, general practice, radiology, psychiatry, pathology alongside some other niches.

4. What can I expect in terms of career prospects?

As you can imagine, doctors, and healthcare professionals are in demand. With an expanding, and aging, population in the UK, there is a current shortage doctors, so it’s a great time to enter the profession.

Although the initial training period is relatively long, once you enter as a fully qualified professional, you can progress into senior roles quickly. You’ll also find your renumeration also increases quickly once fully qualified.

As a doctor in training, you can expect to work a 40-hour week, which will often include out of hours working. A salary is provided for the contracted 40 hours; however, any overtime is paid on an hourly basis. You’ll also get on call or unsociable hours pay enhancements, where applicable.

Once you reach consultant level, and if you choose to work within the NHS, you’ll receive a nationally agreed salary, in line with your experience, with further pay enhancements for being on-call etc. If you go onto the private sector, then salaries are negotiated directly with the employer.

If you choose to specialise as a GP, then you can either be employed directly by a GP practice, or work as a self-employed GP in your own practice.

By opting to run your own practice, you negotiate a contract with your local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to provide services to your local community and are then paid for the services your then provide.

Whatever your speciality, and whether you choose to work in the public or private sector, you can expect to receive a generous salary, alongside other useful benefits, such additional annual leave, a pension, and very often discounts in various retail outlets etc. You might also find you get access to cycle schemes and gym memberships, depending on your employer!

After several years’ experience, there’s also options to move into research, teaching or even healthcare management, with several roles available to qualified, and experienced, doctors.

By choosing to train, and work, in medicine, you can be assured of a lifelong and well-paid career, if you wish, with the opportunity to be supported by ongoing training, and support. There’s also support to move into a different speciality, should you choose! 

5. This sounds like it’s for me! How do I apply to medical school?

All UK medical schools and universities will accept applications through the UCAS system. You’ll need to fill in basic personal information and provide information on your actual and expected qualifications, alongside providing a personal statement and reference.

Alongside this, you’ll also usually need to set an admissions test, such as the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test), and you should check any specific requirements with your prospective universities. Be aware that these tests are often only sat a few times per year, so make sure you investigate your options, to avoid missing your intended entrance point!

Entrance tests do not particularly look at a candidates scientific or technical knowledge; they aim to see what kind of student you are, and focus on cognitive skills, alongside the other professional and personal skills doctors need.