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Become a doctor in the UK

How to become a doctor: Your path to a career in medicine

Get the knowledge you need to pursue your dream of becoming a doctor!

By Thom Brown | 08th May, 2024
Updated on 09th May, 2024

Have you ever dreamed of putting on a white coat to make a real difference in people's lives?

Becoming a doctor can turn that dream into reality. But let's be honest, the road to getting there is tough. Competition is intense, and you'll need a plan to rise above the rest.

Ready to get going but unsure where to start? Keep reading for your step-by-step guide to becoming a doctor.

How do you become a doctor?

Medical interns with Projects Abroad

Becoming a doctor requires high grades, practical experience, and a strong character. Here's a quick run-down on how to become a doctor.

Get qualified

To land a sought-after medical job, you first need the grades.

Academic success provides a solid foundation in medical theory and clinical skills. Even getting into medical school requires more than acing your A Levels. You’ll also need to pass an admissions test and submit a personal statement that stands out from the rest.

You’ll either need a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), or an equivalent undergraduate medical qualification.

This must be from a recognised institution.


What is a recognised medical institution?

In the UK, a recognised institution means any of the 46 medical schools listed on the Medical Schools Council website. Of these, 36 are in England, five in Scotland, three in Wales, and two in Northern Ireland.

Gain experience

Beyond academics, practical experience is fundamental to succeeding on your medical career path. As an undergraduate student, you'll have opportunities to gain clinical experience through placements. These could be in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings.

These experiences allow you to observe medical professionals in action, interact with patients, and develop an understanding of the day-to-day realities of medical practice. You should try out different departments to see which specialty is right for you.

Build soft skills

In addition to academic and clinical proficiency, soft skills are essential. These set you apart as you showcase effective communication, teamwork, and patient care.

Aspiring doctors should focus on developing interpersonal skills, empathy, and cultural competence. This will help you build strong relationships with patients and colleagues.

What is cultural competence?

The NHS defines cultural competence as ‘a set of aligned and transparent skills, attitudes and principles that acknowledge, respect and work together as a system towards optimal interactions between individuals and the various cultural and ethnic groups within a community.’

In short, it is about understanding the relationship between culture and health, including how culture might impact health outcomes.

Other key qualities include resilience, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. With these qualities, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the pressures of your profession.

How long does it take to become a doctor?

Becoming a doctor is a significant commitment, requiring several years of education, training, and practical experience.

It will take around 16 years in total. This includes five years in medical school, a two-year Foundation Programme, and specialty training for three to eight (or even ten!) years.

What is the shortest time to become a doctor?

The shortest path to becoming a doctor in the UK would require you to gain a Bachelor of Medicine or Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree. This is then followed by a two-year Foundation Programme.

In total, the shortest time frame to become a doctor in the UK is around seven to eight years from the start of undergraduate medical studies to completion of the Foundation Programme.

However, it's important to note that becoming a competent medical professional requires ongoing learning, development, and specialisation throughout your career.

Step 1: Medical school

Medical school student

Your journey as a healthcare worker begins by gaining admission to medical school. Here's what you need to know.

Applying to medical school

Applying to medical school in the UK is a competitive process. It involves meeting academic requirements, applying through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), and completing assessments.

While requirements vary between institutions, you’ll be expected to demonstrate academic excellence, work experience, and a commitment to pursuing a medical career.

In medical school, you’ll attend lectures, practical sessions, and clinical placements. The curriculum covers a wide range of medical topics, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology.

How long does it take to complete medical school?

The standard duration of an MBBS degree is five to six years, including both undergraduate and clinical phases.

During the first few years of medical school, you’ll focus on building foundational knowledge through classroom learning and practical sessions. Later on, you’ll transition to clinical rotations, gaining hospital experience.

Can you become a doctor without going to medical school?

No. In the UK, becoming a doctor requires attending medical school. The structured education provided by medical schools provides the knowledge, skills, and clinical experience to practice medicine competently and safely.

There are some alternative pathways, such as graduate entry programmes or roles as physician associates. However, these roles are not equivalent to being a fully qualified doctor.

Step 2: Foundation training

Once you've completed medical school, the next step to becoming a doctor is foundation training. 

What is foundation training?

Foundation training, also known as the Foundation Programme, is a two-year structured training programme. It’s a chance to rotate through different clinical specialties to gain broad experience and develop core skills.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • What it’s for
    It’s designed to provide newly qualified doctors with skills, knowledge, and experience to transition from medical school to medical practice.

  • Who runs it
    The Foundation Programme is overseen by the UK Foundation Programme Office (UKFPO).

  • Why it’s needed
    Completing foundation training is a requirement for all medical graduates seeking registration with the General Medical Council (GMC).

  • What you’ll do
    You’ll join supervised placements in several clinical specialties, including medicine, surgery, and general practice.

  • When you’ll do it
    Usually, immediately after graduating from medical school. Once you have your MBBS degree or equivalent, you’re eligible to apply.

  • How long it takes
    Two years of supervised practice, known as Foundation Year 1 (FY1) and Foundation Year 2 (FY2).

Step 3: Specialty training

Pre-Med medicine intern in Peru

After completing your foundation training, you’ll need to start your specialty training. This is when you’ll either pursue one of the more than 60 specialties available., including becoming a general practitioner (GP).

How long does it take to become a GP?

Becoming a GP involves completing specialty training in general practice. The duration of GP specialty training generally lasts three to four years but can vary.

During GP specialty training, you’ll gain comprehensive experience in various aspects of primary care. This includes consultations with patients, diagnostic skills, preventive medicine, and management of health conditions.

You’ll work in different healthcare settings, such as surgeries and clinics. Upon passing your training, you can apply for membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (MRCGP).

Once you’ve done this, congratulations! You’re a fully qualified GP, ready to provide primary care to patients.

What specialties can I pursue?

In addition to general practice, there’s a wide range of medical specialties you can pursue.

Common specialties include:

  • General Practice (GP): Providing primary care for patients as the first point of contact. 
  • Emergency Medicine: Caring for patients with acute illnesses and injuries in the Accident & Emergency department.
  • Public Health: Protecting and improving the health of the population.
  • Ophthalmology: Diagnosing and treating eye conditions.
  • Cardiology: Specialists in diagnosing and treating heart conditions.
  • Paediatrics: Caring for infants, children, and adolescents.
  • Psychiatry: Diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.
  • Gynaecology: Working on diseases specific to females, especially those affecting the reproductive system.

Each specialty training programme has its own curriculum, training requirements, and assessment processes. Be sure to research your preferred specialty and consult with training advisors.

View the full range of roles and specialties available to doctors on the NHS website.

Extra step: Medical work experience

Have you thought about gaining first-hand medical work experience? This is crucial when considering how to become a doctor.

Experience provides insights into the realities of medicine. It’s also what sets you apart from other applicants, helping you secure hospital jobs in this competitive industry.

We offer bespoke internships for undergraduate medical students. These are built to give you the skills, confidence, and experience you need to thrive as a healthcare professional.

Where can I gain medical work experience?

 If you’re struggling to find suitable experience in the UK, why not head abroad? Here’s where you could go:

Medical students in Nepal

Undergrad Medical Internship in Nepal

This tailor-made internship opportunity will immerse you in the world of healthcare while you explore the majestic Himalayan foothills.

As an undergraduate medical intern in Nepal, you will:

  • Shadow medical professionals in a busy Kathmandu hospital.

  • Join impactful medical outreach initiatives in underserved communities.

  • Attend medical-based workshops and lectures.

  • Rotate through hospital departments to uncover your interests.

  • Immerse yourself in Nepali culture as you live, work, and explore alongside local people.
Medical students in Peru

Undergrad Medical Internship in Peru

For the chance to learn about healthcare in Latin America, consider an Undergrad Medical Internship in Peru.

On this internship, you will:

  • Observe skilled healthcare professionals in a lively Cusco hospital.

  • Support underserved communities in the Andes.

  • Expand your knowledge with lectures from leading Peruvian healthcare workers.

  • Explore hospital departments as you learn about health concerns specific to Peru.

  • Become immersed in the colourful culture of Peru, discovering iconic sites like Machu Picchu!
Medical student in Tanzania

Undergrad Medical Internship in Tanzania

Learning, impact, and adventure converge on this incredible internship in Tanzania. Why not experience how healthcare works in a developing country?

In Tanzania, you will:

  • Observe doctors working in a busy and understaffed Arusha hospital.

  • Visit remote Maasai communities to complete medical outreaches.

  • Learn from the best as you put medicine into an East African context.

  • Explore different departments to discover your passion.

  • Discover the ancient traditions of Tanzania and spot incredible wildlife on a safari!

Each destination offers unique opportunities for undergraduates to gain valuable medical work experience. Take this chance to broaden your perspectives and make meaningful contributions to global health.

(Aged 15 to 18? Take a look at our Medicine High School Specials — our tailor-made medical work experience trips for teens).

Ready to start your journey to becoming a doctor?

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