How to Become a Doctor in the UK

Published: 01st December 2011
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Medicine is an exciting field that is always changing with new discoveries and techniques being developed every year. A career as a doctor is held in high esteem, pays well, and offers continuous challenges. It’s no wonder why the competition to get into medical school is so high. If you are considering a career as a doctor, it’s important to understand the steps involved to get there so that you can be sure of your decision before taking on the challenge.


Reasons for Becoming a Doctor
If you believe that becoming a doctor may be in your cards, honestly ask yourself why you’d like to take up this demanding occupation. Many people go into it for the prestige and money. This can be a huge mistake. Becoming a doctor is a long and arduous road. It doesn’t end once you’ve graduated and have actually become a practicing doctor. Unless you care about helping people, are confident, responsible, have integrity and compassion, enjoy constant challenges and handle them well, and have a passion for learning, you will not make it very far or will not enjoy your career as a doctor.

For some, all the money and prestige in the world isn’t worth the loss of free time and the stress that comes with the job. Your main desire for becoming a doctor should be the opportunity to provide an essential service to the public. This will get you through the 7 plus years of intense study and will serve you well throughout your career.

That said, as long as you don’t embark on a career as a doctor lightly and are sure it is for you, you will enjoy a long career that includes many rewarding experiences and, yes, a generous salary. After 7 or more years studying at a medical university, you will earn from about £23,000 to £60,000. Once you begin specializing, your salary may increase to between £35,000 and £85,000. As a surgeon, your salary may be between £75,000 and £100,000. From there, the sky’s the limit. Six-figure incomes are common among doctors in the UK. Your salary will depend on what type of practice you work for as well as your experience.

To get started, let’s look at what obstacles you will have to overcome on your journey to becoming a doctor. By preparing ahead of time, you will have much-needed confidence and strength to get you through even the most difficult challenges ahead.


Medical School Qualifications
You will find that each medical school in the UK sets their own admission criteria.
In general, you will need to acquire superb grades in science subjects. For instance, you’ll need an A level in chemistry and biology. You will also need an A level grade in an arts subject. You will be expected to have a well-rounded combination of A levels, AS levels, and GCSEs. In particular, you will need to have good GCSEs in mathematics and English.

As the competition among potential medical students grows fiercer every year, medical schools are continuously raising their standards. Make sure that you prepare ahead by finding ways to stick out from the crowd. When applying to schools, be certain that you are aware of their individual standards. In addition, ensure that the requirements you are aware of are updated for the particular year you will be applying for.

Understanding the details of admission requirements is imperative. Most medical schools do not accept A level general studies or A level critical thinking as qualifiers. No matter what school you are interested in, get their requirements in writing to assess your chances of being accepted and to prepare ahead of time. It is equally important that you get your application in before the deadline. With the high amount of competition, late applications will not be considered.


How to Apply
If you would like further details about admission requirements at each UK medical school, visit www.ucas.com. Here you will find detailed criteria that are published every year by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).


Admission Tests
Besides turning in your application, most medical schools will require you to pass admissions tests. The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) is designed to test potential students on attributes such as their level of professional behaviour and whether they demonstrate appropriate mental abilities and attitudes. To learn more about the UKCAT test, visit the UKCAT website at: www.ukcat.ac.uk.

The BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) has as its sole purpose to test how well potential students will fare in their undergraduate studies. Among other things, the BMAT will test your writing skills, aptitude, and scientific knowledge. It is challenging and designed to determine which applicants will achieve the most academically. To learn more about this test, visit the BMAT website at: www.bmat.org.uk.

Again, check with the medical schools you will be applying to in order to find out what tests they require for admission.


Medical School Courses
Every medical school has its own syllabus and course requirements. In general, a medical school will require the following:
• Traditional Courses. This includes two years of pre-clinical studies in which you will study medical science basics followed by three years of clinical studies. During your clinical studies, you will gain hands-on experience working in hospital wards under professional supervision. During these three years, you will also attend numerous lectures.
• Integrated Courses. This may focus on practical clinical skills and problem-based learning. During this time, you will work directly with patients. You will be expected to determine the best course of action in various medical cases and will receive feedback and guidance from the teaching staff. In addition, you will work with other medical students in order to develop important teamwork skills, problem solving skills, communication, and personal responsibility. Most medical schools now offer these types of courses. These schools include: Barts, East Anglia, Glasgow, Hull and York, Keele, Liverpool, Manchester, Peninsula, and Queen Mary.


What if You Do Not Have a Background in Science?
If you are a recent graduate, there are many companies that recruit post-graduates at a certain time of the year. The recruitment process is usually involved for larger companies, but smaller quantity surveying companies may accept speculative applications throughout the year.


Training
While students who have completed studies in science are preferred, those who are considered to have an insufficient science background may be able to take premedical courses depending on the school. As long as you have maintained good grades in your other subjects, a growing number of medical schools are allowing students to take foundation courses as a path to a medical degree. Medical schools offering foundation (pre-medical) courses include Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, East Anglia, Keele, Manchester, Sheffield, and Southampton.


What if I’m Not Yet Sure What Type of Doctor I Want to Become?
While you will eventually have to decide what area of medicine you would like to specialize in, you will not have to make the decision right away. Until you are in postgraduate training, you will have time to assess what field of medicine appeals most to you. However, it is important to know what specialties you will need to choose from. Also, the earlier you focus on a specialty, the more experience you’ll be able to attain in that field. Of course, gaining well-rounded medical knowledge is necessary before specialization is possible.

Medical schools will offer you plenty of information on each specialty. You can also take full advantage of your studies by talking to doctors with various specialties. You can then begin to narrow down your choices and discover which specialty holds the most interest for you.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Doctor
Now that you have a better understanding of what it takes to become a doctor, it may be helpful to create a list of pros and cons. Keep in mind the advantages and disadvantages to becoming a doctor will vary from individual to individual. What is a “pro” to one person may be a “con” to another. Take into account your own personality and how you might handle the challenges involved with being a doctor.

A general list of pros may include:
• Providing a valuable service to others
• The ability to save lives
• Opportunity to contribute to the study of medical science
• The continuous learning process
• Dynamic atmosphere
• Job security and good salary

A general list of cons may include:
• Difficult path to becoming a doctor (lots of preparation including medical school, internships, residency, etc.)
• Debt accrued from years of school without time to work in the meantime
• High-stress occupation
• Responsibility for people’s lives
• Emotionally challenging when you aren’t able to help people
• Very little free time
• Takes time to work up the ladder to a higher salary


Love Your Job
With any occupation, it is ideal to love what you do in order to earn money. In the case of becoming a doctor, it is absolutely essential to love what you do. This is not to say that there won’t be times where you wish you were somewhere else. In fact, it’s inevitable that dealing with the high stress and emotional (and physical) challenges of being a doctor would take their toll on anyone. However, unless you are interested in science and medicine, and helping others, your path to becoming a doctor will present numerous obstacles that may seem insurmountable.

Many doctors believe that their role was a “calling.” Ask yourself if you believe that you will also have this type of deep devotion to becoming a doctor. If you do have an interest in the field of medicine, keep in mind that there are many occupations to choose from in addition to becoming a doctor. For instance, if you enjoy working with ideas more than you do with people, you might consider looking into the field of medical research instead. Before diving into years of study, take a thorough look into all possible occupations in the medical industry and determine which one will give you the most satisfaction throughout your life.


How Do Doctors Get Hired?
As a resident in medicine, you are likely to receive several emails, postcards, or other forms of communication a day from physician recruiters. There are also physician websites that list jobs. In addition, if you are interested in working at a specific hospital or clinic, you can simply call to discuss your interest. It will be up to you to navigate what direction your career will take. Of course, some institutions will seek out residents who specialize in a specific field of medicine. To get the job that you want, it is important to stay proactive throughout your time in medical school and to get as much experience as possible in the field you are interested in.

In addition to working in the UK, there are several opportunities to work abroad. Working with such organizations as Doctors Without Borders and in clinics abroad provides invaluable learning experiences. Look into all opportunities available to you and you will get the most satisfaction out of your career.


Universities with Schools of Medicine
The following is a list of universities in the UK with schools or faculties of medicine.

Also included is each school’s website address or phone number so that you can review further information about what they have to offer and what their specific entry requirements are.

University of Aberdeen: www.qub.ac.uk/schools/mdbs
Queens University, Belfast: www.qub.ac.uk/schools/mdbs
University of Birmingham: www.medicine.bham.ac.uk (continued)
Brighton and Sussex Medical School: www.bsms.ac.uk
University of Bristol: www.bristol.ac.uk/medical-school
University of Cambridge: www.med.cam.ac.uk
Cardiff University: www.medicine.cf.ac.uk
University of Dundee: www.dundee.ac.uk
University of Edinburgh: www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/medicine-vet-medicine/home
University of Glasgow: www.gla.ac.uk
Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ Medical School: www.kcl.ac.uk
Imperial College School of Medicine: www1.imperial.ac.uk/medicine
St George’s Hospital Medical School: www.sghms.ac.uk
University College London: www.ucl.ac.uk/medicalschool
University of Manchester: www.medicine/manchester.ac.uk
Newcastle University: www.mbbs.ncl.ac.uk
University of Nottingham: 0115 823 0000
University of East Anglia, Norwich: www.uea.ac.uk/med
University of Hull: www.hyms.ac.uk
University of Leeds: www.leeds.ac.uk
University of Leicester: www.le.ac.uk
University of Liverpool: www.liv.ac.uk/medicine
Queens Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry, London: www.smd.qmul.ac.uk
University of Oxford: www.medsci.ox.ac.uk
Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth: www.pms.ac.uk
University of Sheffield: www.shef.ac.uk/medicine
University of Southampton: www.som.soton.ac.uk
University of St Andrews: http://medicine.st-and.ac.uk
University of Keele, Stoke-on-Trent: www.keele.ac.uk
University of Wales Swansea: www.swan.ac.uk/medicine
University of Warwick: www2.warwick.ac.uk

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