How to become a doctor in the UK

December 6, 2023
5 min read
Cress Warnell

Many of the world's top medical schools are in the UK. This makes it one of the best places to become a doctor, but there is fierce competition for places. Earning a spot in medical school is a major achievement in itself, and can open the door to an exciting and prestigious career.

Becoming a doctor involves years of study and hands-on clinical training. It takes between at least seven years, perhaps more, depending on the type of medicine you want to practise. Once completed, UK-trained doctors find employment opportunities all around the world.

If you're interested in a career in medicine, our guide about how to become a doctor in the UK will help you understand the path to follow.

The many choices available to healthcare professionals

There's a wide variety of disciplines within the medical profession. Some doctors choose to become General Practitioners, providing broad medical services to a community. Others practise medicine as specialists, such as consultants or surgeons.

Medical specialties include:

  • Surgery
  • Obstetrics and gynaecology
  • Cardiology
  • Psychiatry
  • Paediatrics

Medical schools give core training that offers students a broad understanding of many different medical specialties. This produces junior doctors who go on to specialist training.

Doctors in the UK can choose between working in the National Health Service (NHS) or the private sector, or a combination of both.

You can't practise medicine in the UK without being registered with the General Medical Council.

Applying to medical school in the UK

Many universities are linked to a medical school, all of which offer a medical degree. This is the first stage in the process to become a doctor.

Each medical school has its own entry requirements and there's significant competition for places at all of them. Many require you to have very good grades across both your GCSEs and A-levels and for these to demonstrate a strong bias towards scientific knowledge. If you don't have the preferred A-levels, you may be able to take a foundation course.

High grades are only part of the entry requirement. You also need an excellent personal statement, to demonstrate your interest and commitment to studying medicine. You should also provide details of any relevant experience. Strong communication skills in English are vital.

Your chosen medical school may require that you take a biomedical admissions test, used by many universities around the world to help select those they will train to become a doctor. They will also be looking for demonstrations of critical thinking skills and problem-solving capabilities.

If you have a first degree in a non-medical subject, some medical schools offer a graduate entry programme, involving a foundation course to study medicine.

Core medical training and medical degrees

Most medical schools offer an undergraduate degree that takes five years to complete. The first two years of the undergraduate degree cover basic medical sciences. The next three years involve clinical training, putting the medical student into hospital wards, where their work is supervised by consultants.

Completing the degree does not make you a qualified doctor. Achieving this status requires a further two-year foundation programme. During the first you're given a provisional registration and licence to practise medicine. Full registration comes with successful completion of the first year.

The different titles of medical doctors

There are many forms of medical doctor in the UK. They include:

Medical student - Medical students studying for a bachelor's degree at medical school, or on the foundation programme.

Junior doctor - Students with a medical degree and completion of a foundation year. They have a medical licence and provide patient care under supervision of a more senior doctor.

Consultant - Senior doctors providing medical care in specialist areas. They also manage more junior doctors. It usually takes at least six years to become a consultant after leaving medical school.

Specialist doctor - Also known as SAS doctors (specialist or associate specialist). They can work as both a hospital doctor and General Practitioner.

General Practitioner - These doctors treat patients outside of hospitals, in the community. They refer patients for specialist treatment when it's needed.

Academic doctor - Professors and those involved in research are often fully qualified doctors, who teach while also involved in specialist clinical care.

Other types of medical doctor include:

  • Forensic physician
  • Anaesthetist
  • Radiologist

Additional training beyond medical school

As medical knowledge continues to advance, so your knowledge as a doctor will continue to grow beyond your core medical training. Some of this education is formal, and much will be informal, through experience.

The General Medical Council requires that doctors keep their knowledge up to date and are working to appropriate standards. This is achieved through continuing professional development - a process of ongoing education throughout the working life of every doctor in the UK.

In summary: how to become a doctor in the UK

Step 1 - Ensure you have good English language skills.

Step 2 - Achieve high scores in GCSEs and A-levels or equivalent exams.

Step 3 - Secure a place in one of the UK's medical schools.

Step 4 - Graduate from medical school and take the two-year foundation programme.

From 2025 onwards all graduates from medical schools will also need to pass the medical licensing examination before they can join the medical register.

Start your study of medicine with Summer Schools

Learning how to become a doctor is a huge commitment involving at least seven years of intense study. It's not a challenge to be taken lightly.

If you want to study medicine and explore a career as a doctor, you can have a look at a wide variety of summer courses with industry-leading schools. Take a look at what we have on offer.

Summer School courses give you valuable insights into what life is like in medical school, and into the specialist training needed to become a doctor. Gaining that experience in a UK university will help you decide whether medical school is right for you, and prepare you for what will be a demanding application and admissions process.

Cress Warnell

Cress is a skilled copywriter who transforms ideas into captivating content. With a passion for words and a keen eye for detail, she crafts compelling copy for Summer Schools, helping students explore their options in education.

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