How to become a doctor

Becoming a doctor can be one of the most challenging and complicated processes a student will ever face. There are many different routes, various tests and application processes and then thousands of career paths once qualified. We have tried to break the medical career pathway down into simple areas with advice and guidance for each step. Make sure you read each section to understand the process fully. 

How long does it take to become a doctor?

The quickest route to becoming a doctor is to complete your A-levels, gain entry into a medical school first time round and then 5 straight years at medical school. Once you have graduated from medical school you gain the title of "doctor" and can apply for foundation posts. You might see the term "FY1" or "foundation year 1 doctor" but you are a qualified doctor and you will be working full time in a hospital you are just under the supervision of a mentor, who checks your progress for the first couple of years.

That is the quickest route, but often this can be delayed. Here are some things that can delay this:

Things that can slow this down:

  • You don't gain a place first time.

  • You take a gap year before applying to medical school.

  • You take a year out during medical school.

  • You take a year out to study (This is called intercalation, where you gain a full degree in a separate course in 1 year).

  • You fail a year and need to resit.

The Quickest Path:

  • A-levels, IB or equivalent qualifications.

  • 5 years at medical school (first time entry and no breaks)

  • After graduating you are now a doctor.

How long does it take to become a consultant?

You might think a doctor and consultant are the same thing, and you would be correct. A consultant is a doctor who has completed a specific level of training and now has specialised in an area of medicine and this usually also comes with a higher level of responsibility. Now, how long does it take? This simple answer is 5-9 years. However in reality it depends on which speciality path you take after FY1 and FY2.

Once you have completed your FY1 and FY2 years you need to make a decision on whether to be a medical doctor, surgical trainee or enter GP (general practitioner) training. Here is breakdown of each path if you complete year as quickly as possible:

Medical Doctor

  • FY1

  • FY2

  • Core training year 1

  • Core training year 2

  • Core training year 3

Surgical Training

  • FY1

  • FY2

  • Surgical training year 1

  • Surgical training year 2

  • Surgical training year 3

  • Surgical training year 4

  • Surgical training year 5


GP training

  • FY1

  • FY2

  • GP training year 1

  • GP training year 2

  • GP training year 3

After completing year 3 of GP training you are now a GP Consultant.

This assumes you don't take any time out which is very rare. There are exams as each stage that need to be passed so this can slow the path down. Also, life will get in the way and children, education and career breaks normally delay this process.

Whats the difference between a medical doctor, surgical trainee and GP?

This will make a lot more sense once you have been through medical school but there are three main types of doctors; medical doctor, surgeon and GP. This is highly generalised as there are thousands of roles that cross these boundaries but the premise still stands. 

Firstly, a surgeon is a doctor, they have just been through a specific training pathway that specialises in surgery.  A medical doctor does not complete complex surgeries but does manage conditions that don't always need surgery. For example if you had Pneumonia you would see a medical doctor who would manage your condition. If you needed your appendix removing you would need to see a surgeon. A large over simplification but it should help you see both are doctors but they have different training pathways and therefore have different roles.

General Practitioners (GPs) are normally community based doctors who deal with all common medical conditions. They are normally based in a healthcare centre or "practice", they can also conduct home visits for patents that can't reach the practice. GPs are often the first point of contact a patient has with the healthcare system and they manage patients who do not need to be in hospital and also refer any into hospital that requires additional treatment. 

One of the best ways to find out more about the career path of a doctor is to spend some time talking to doctors and healthcare professionals. Medical Projects have several opportunities where you can spend time learning from doctors and healthcare professionals, so its worth checking out their courses.

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Medical Projects run work experience, university preparation courses and interview courses. Find out more about    how to become a doctor    here.

Medical Projects run work experience, university preparation courses and interview courses. Find out more about how to become a doctor here.

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