How to Become a Doctor

How to become a doctor concept with doctors holding hands

Pursuing a career as a doctor can be an exciting and rewarding opportunity. But, it requires a huge amount of hard work, responsibility, and sacrifice, and this is one of the reasons why not everyone is suited to this profession.

If you are considering this career path and you believe that you have the drive, ability and attitude to go forward, this career guide can help you.

1. Research the Profession

Before you decide on a career, take the opportunity to research the profession on your own. This should help you understand what you are getting into and find out whether you are prepared for it.

Job Description

Doctors are responsible for promoting, maintaining or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of a disease, injury or other physical or mental impairments. Each doctor’s responsibilities may vary depending on their role and under what conditions they choose to work. So they can either decide whether they want to become a general practitioner or a hospital doctor.

General practitioners are responsible for providing primary and continuing medical care for patients in the community. They diagnose various illnesses and recommend appropriate treatment. When needed, they also refer patients to hospital clinics for further assessment or treatment and may run specialist clinics within the practice for patients with specific conditions.

Hospital doctors examine, diagnose and treat patients who have been referred to the hospital by GP’s and other professionals. They work closely other healthcare professionals including nurses, radiographers, pharmacists, and physiotherapists and may refer patients to them. They work inward and outpatient clinics, in public and private sector.

Key Responsibilities

For most doctors work depends on their speciality and the work environment they are based. A hospital doctor working as a surgeon for example, will have different daily tasks to a general physician.

However, the following duties are likely to be carried out on a daily or weekly basis by hospital doctors regardless of their speciality:

  • Monitoring and providing general care to patients on hospital wards and in outpatient clinics
  • Admitting patients requiring special care, followed by investigations and treatment
  • Examining and talking to patients to diagnose their medical conditions
  • Carrying out specific procedures, e.g. performing operations and specialist investigations
  • Making notes and preparing paperwork, both as a legal record of treatment and for the benefit of other healthcare professionals
  • Working with other doctors as part of a team, either in the same department or within other specialities
  • Liaising with other medical and non-medical staff in the hospital to ensure quality treatment
  • Promoting health education
  • Undertaking managerial responsibilities such as planning the workload and staffing of the department, especially at more senior levels
  • Teaching and supervising junior doctors and medical students
  • Carrying out auditing and research

The following are responsibilities carried out by general practitioners:

  • Responding to medical/health problems presented by patients including history taking, diagnosis, investigation, treatment, and referral as appropriate
  • Maintaining confidentiality and impartiality
  • Commissioning healthcare by liaising with medical professionals in the community and hospitals
  • Promoting health education in conjunction with other health professionals
  • Organising preventative medical programmes for individual patients
  • Providing specialist clinics for specific conditions or for certain groups, e.g. diabetes, smoking cessation and new babies
  • Meeting targets set by the government for specific treatments, such as child immunisations
  • Discussing the development of new pharmaceutical products with pharmaceutical sales representatives
  • Managing resources to handle targets as effectively as possible
  • Using IT skills - some practices have one partner who specialises in the use of IT within the practice but all will be expected to
  • Having basic abilities for work, such as maintaining patients' records using specific packages
  • Keeping up to date with medical developments, new drugs, treatments and medications, including complementary medicine
  • Observing and assessing the work of trainee GPs and medical students and teaching at medical schools or hospitals
  • Maintaining a portfolio of continuing professional development (CPD) activities

Essential Skills and Qualities

If you are interested in becoming a doctor here is a list of the professional skills and qualities you will need:

  • Commitment to caring for others
  • Resourcefulness and stamina
  • Willingness to accept responsibility
  • Ability to prioritise workload
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Motivation and perseverance
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Empathy, compassion, and reflection
  • Team working and leadership skills

Working Hours and Conditions

Doctors based in hospitals often work very long and unsocial hours, including weekends and nights usually on a rota-basis, but this varies according to speciality. Many roles also involve being on-call for certain periods.

General practitioners’ offices are generally contracted to be open from 8.30am to 6.30pm, but they often need to work outside of these hours. Some offer extended hours than expected and sometimes they need to stay up later than usual, on certain evenings or Saturday mornings.

Salary Prospects

It’s amongst the highest-paying jobs in the world. But, salary varies depending on education level, work environment, years worked in the industry (either in residency or full-time) location and speciality.

The following are salary indications for hospital doctors:

In the UK

Junior doctor in Foundation Year 1 (F1): £22,636

Junior doctor in Foundation Year 2 (F2): £28,076

Doctor in Specialist Training (Specialty Doctors): £30,002

Consultant Level: £75,249 to £101,451 (depending on length of service)

In the US

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2016 median pay for physicians and surgeons was equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

The following are salary indications for general practitioners:

In the UK

Junior doctor in Foundation Year (F1): £22,636

Junior doctor in Foundation Year (F2): £28,076

Salaried general practice: £55,412 to £83,617 (depending on the length of service and experience)

In the US

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual wage of family and general practitioners is $200,810. Individual rates vary according to state and region.

In Other Countries

Salaries in other countries are equal and sometimes even higher than UK or US. If you are interested in working as a doctor abroad, find out which countries offer the highest salary in the industry worldwide.

2. Get the Qualifications

To become a hospital doctor you will need the following qualifications:

In the UK

  • A 5-year degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC).
  • A 2-year foundation programme of general training.
  • Completing a 2-year core medical training (CMT) or Acute Care Common Stem (ACCS).
  • Specialist training – the length of this stage depends on the area of medicine you choose, but will usually take between 4 and 6 years.

If you haven’t got a degree in science, you may be able to join a 6-year degree course in medicine for which you may need to complete one-year pre-medical or foundation year. If you have a degree in science, you can enrol in a 4-year graduate entry programme into medicine. If you have a medical alternative degree, there are some more specialist career routes to examine.

To get on a medicine course, you will need to take the UK clinical aptitude test, or the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). These are used to check your suitability to this demanding career in terms of mental health and behavioural characteristics.

For further assistance on educational requirements, you can visit the BMA (British Medical Association), which provides more information on graduate routes.

In the US

If you are based in the US, you will need to complete a Bachelor’s degree and then an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

Taking the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is compulsory, these exams can be taken up to three times per year. Succeeding in these can guarantee your entry into medical school.

Once you are in you will need to:

  • Complete a 4-year program that involves the first 2 years classroom-based and laboratory work and last 2 years working directly with the patient under supervision.
  • Undertake a clinical experience in 3 years going over a range of speciality areas such as neurology, radiology, and medicine. This gives you an opportunity to decide which area you prefer to go into after graduation.
  • Complete a residency program where you will be expected to work with patients in a speciality area of medicine at a hospital or clinic. This could last from 3 to 7 years depending on the speciality you choose.
  • Obtain licensure to be able to practice medicine that is gained through successful completion of the residency program and passing the necessary exams. The licensure needs renewal after completing at least 50 hours of continuing education, and requirements may differ depending on each state.
  • Getting certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) can increase your employment opportunities. 

3. Land Your First Job

The job market is highly competitive and you will need to build a strong network of contacts in the industry. Luckily doctors are one of the few industries that have managed to remain relatively unaffected in recent years.

Make sure to practice for the interviews with ISC Medical and equip yourself with motivation and commitment early on in your residency years. This should help you stand out in the field amongst the sea of other doctors.   

When you are on the job hunt, you might want to check the following site:

If you are interested to work as a doctor overseas and you are based in the UK, you can check Health Careers to get information on how you can get started and the AMA (American Medical Association) if you want to work in the US.

4. Develop Your Career

Medicine is a huge field that offers many career possibilities, including in:

Paediatrics: treating general medical conditions in infant, adolescents, and children.

Anesthesiology: administrating and studying anaesthesia for surgical procedures.

Surgery: performing surgeries that are related to different areas of medicine.

Cardiology: diagnosing and treating conditions related to the heart and vessels of the blood.

Endocrinology: diagnosing and treating endocrine system and glands disorders and imbalances.

Urology: diagnosing, treating and studying health issues related to the urinary tract, kidney, and urinary system.

Gastrology: treating and diagnosing medical conditions related to the stomach functions.

Gynaecology: treating and diagnosing medical conditions with the female reproductive system.

Immunology: specialises in the study and treatment of conditions related to the immune system.

Neurology: diagnosing, studying and treating medical conditions affecting the brain such as strokes, seizures and Alzheimer’s.

Orthopaedics: responsible for repairing and replacing broken bones as well as treating bone, tendons and joint problems.

Podiatry: specialising in the treatment of diseases and disorders affecting the ankle and foot.

Audiology: providing hearing aids treatment.

Ophthalmology: providing eye vision treatment and performing simple eye surgeries.

Dermatology: specialising in skin and skin structure conditions.

Psychiatry: specialising in the study, treatment, and diagnosis of mental disorders and behavioural problems.

Whatever speciality you choose, you need to make sure it involves an activity that you will enjoy. This is vital because you are going to dedicate your life to studying this subject.

Developing your career as a hospital doctor:

Once you have become an established professional in the field and you practice your profession as a hospital doctor, you can choose to become a consultant or supervise the work and training of other doctors in your team. On a managerial level, you can become the clinical lead in a team, or clinical director of a department. You can also move into academic medicine or research within your specialist area.

Developing your career as a general practitioner:

As a GP, you can choose to become a principal (partner) within a surgery and take on the responsibility of the administrative or business side of the practice. Other options are to become a locum, working between practices whenever and as required or a GP with special interest (GPwSI) and expand your knowledge in areas such as substance misuse, epilepsy, endoscopy, palliative care or sexual health.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for doctors is bright as health practitioners are considered to be one of the 11 most future-proof jobs you can get into today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job opportunities to increase by 14 percent much faster than other occupations by 2024.

If you want to become a doctor, it won’t be an easy journey. But all the hardship and time spent studying is going to be worth it. The high salary and fact that you will be helping people are just a couple of the obvious reasons to become a doctor!

Would you do it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…

Information on job duties and UK salaries provided by