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Becoming a doctor

becoming a doctor

Thinking of becoming a doctor? Find out what qualifications you need and learn more about your potential career path.

Medicine is a caring profession and doctors provide a service to the public by diagnosing and treating illnesses, diseases and infections.

Doctors can specialise in a particular area, such as Opthalmology or Paediatrics, according to their interests and skills.

Opportunities for doctors extend beyond the hospital environment, there are also opportunities available in other areas such as the armed forces, prisons, or the Home Office working as a police surgeon.

The challenge

Although medicine is frequently rewarding, it is a strenuous and challenging degree. Once you have become a doctor, it is vital that you continue learning new skills and training in order to not be left behind. As such life-long learning is integral to medicine – none of us wants to be treated by a doctor who is not up-to-date on new treatments and techniques.

It can take up to 12 years from studying medicine at undergraduate level to being appointed as a senior doctor (hospital consultant) or nine years to obtain GP status.

When you graduate from medical school you begin your career as a pre-registration house officer. This allows you to learn more about medical practice whist working at your particular level of competency, knowledge, and skills.

Doctors tend to work long hours and have to be on-call (available to work during the night) at certain times. On top of this, during your time as a house officer, you will also be studying for specialty exams which are understandably time consuming and demanding.

Course entry requirements for a medical degree

The entry requirements for degree courses vary a great deal so check with the institution you’re interested in applying to.

Generally, medical schools seek a good grade in chemistry at A-level and increasingly they require A-level biology. Some universities may accept two science AS levels (including chemistry) in place of one A level science subject. One other science subject is often required, eg physics (or physical science), or mathematics.

A good A-level grade in an arts subject such as history or a modern language will usually be accepted as a third A- level. Applicants with A-levels in arts subjects will need good passes at GCSE level in the sciences.

All applicants will be expected to have good GCSE passes in English and mathematics.

Students with mainly non-science A-levels are normally required to study a foundation course, which is an extra year in addition to the standard five years.

The career path of a doctor

Medical degree (five years)

The undergraduate course provides students with some exposure to the different specialities within medicine. It involves practical clinical tasks and seeks to develop attitudes and behaviours appropriate to the medical profession, as well as the skills of independent learning.

Foundation year 1

Newly qualified graduates from medical school receive provisional registration from the General Medical Council (GMC) and undertake foundation year 1 (F1) which is designed to build on the knowledge and skills gained during undergraduate training. On successful completion of F1, trainees receive full registration with the GMC and can continue to the second year of foundation training.

Foundation year 2

Foundation year 2 (F2) training continues the general training in medicine and involves a range of different specialties, which could include general practice. By the end of foundation training, trainees must demonstrate that they are competent in areas such as managing acutely ill patients, team working and communication skills, to continue training in their chosen specialist area or in general practice.

Speciality and general practice training (three to eight years)

On successful completion of foundation training, doctors continue training in either a specialist area of medicine or in general practice. The area of medicine you choose will determine the length of training required before you can become a senior doctor. In general practice the training is of three years’ duration, and in general surgery, for example, the training is eight years in duration. During this period of training, doctors learn and practice increasingly advanced areas of knowledge and skills in their chosen specialty or general practice in order for them to be able to undertake senior doctor roles once training is completed. Postgraduate training is overseen by the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board (PMETB).

Continuing professional development

On successful completion of postgraduate training, doctors gain entry to either the GMC specialist register or general practitioner register and are able to apply for a senior post as a consultant or a GP principal, respectively. Whilst these posts are viewed as career pinnacles, all doctors are expected to continually demonstrate their fitness to practise medicine, and so learning continues throughout a doctor’s career

(Information taken from the British Medical Association website)

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