Hospital doctors examine, diagnose and treat patients with a range of illnesses, diseases and injuries who've been referred or admitted to hospital
As a hospital doctor, you'll apply your medical knowledge and skills to the diagnosis, treatment, management and prevention of disease and other medical conditions.
Work is predominantly found in the public sector (NHS) but you can also work in private hospitals. You'll spend time working on wards and in outpatient clinics.
As well as treating patients, you'll refer them to a range of other healthcare professionals including nurses, radiographers, pharmacists, physiotherapists and other doctors.
Types of doctor
There are around 60 specialties to choose from. Some of the more common areas include:
- emergency medicine
- general medicine
- general surgery
- obstetrics and gynaecology
- trauma and orthopaedics.
Explore the range of roles and specialties.
Specific tasks depend on your specialty - for instance, the work surgeons carry out on a daily basis is completely different from the workload of an accident and emergency (A&E) doctor.
Regardless of your speciality, as a hospital doctor you'll need to:
- monitor and provide general care to patients on hospital wards and in outpatient clinics
- admit patients requiring special care, followed by investigations and treatment
- examine and talk to patients to diagnose their medical conditions
- carry out specific procedures, e.g. performing operations and specialist investigations
- make notes and prepare paperwork, both as a legal record of treatment and for the benefit of other healthcare professionals
- work with other doctors as part of a team, either in the same department or within other specialties
- liaise with other medical and non-medical staff in the hospital to ensure quality treatment
- promote health education
- undertake managerial responsibilities such as planning the workload and staffing of the department, especially at more senior levels
- teach and supervise junior doctors and medical students
- carry out auditing and research.
- Junior doctors undertaking foundation training earn a basic salary of £28,808 to £33,345.
- As a doctor undertaking your specialist training, your basic salary ranges from £39,467 to £53,077.
- The basic salary for specialty doctors ranges from £45,124 to £77,519. Newly qualified consultants earn a basic salary of £84,559 rising to £114,003, depending on length of service. Consultants may apply for local and national Clinical Excellence Awards (England and Wales). They can also supplement their income by working in private practice.
As well as a basic salary, doctors in training earn extra for any hours over 40 per week, a 37% enhancement for working nights, a weekend allowance for any work at the weekend and an availability allowance if they are required to be available on-call.
Figures relate to the pay and conditions of medical doctors within the NHS, which is the largest employer of doctors in the UK. Consultants working in the private sector can expect to be paid more.
Income data from NHS Health Careers - Pay for doctors. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours vary according to your specialty, although you can usually expect to work long and sometimes unsocial hours, including weekends and nights (usually on a rota basis). Many roles involve being on-call for certain periods.
It is possible to take a break from your medical practice. For guidance on how to plan a career break, see the General Medical Council.
What to expect
- Working conditions vary according to specialty. Settings include wards, consulting rooms, operating theatres, laboratories and special units such as A&E.
- Opportunities are available in most large towns and cities.
- A variety of private practice opportunities exist, depending on your experience and specialist knowledge. These positions can provide more flexibility or management of your own hours.
- The work may be demanding, both mentally and physically, with long, sometimes unsocial, hours. You'll be taking responsibility for patients' health and wellbeing. It can also be hugely rewarding when you see patients recover their health.
- Travel is occasionally required as part of the working day. If you're on an on-call rota system, you may be absent from home overnight. There are also opportunities to travel and work abroad.
To become a hospital doctor you must complete:
- a degree in medicine recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
- a two-year foundation programme of general training
- specialist training in a chosen area of medicine.
Medical degrees are available at undergraduate level and usually take five to six years to complete. If you've already got a degree in a subject other than medicine (usually a 2:1 or above in a science-related subject) you can apply for a four-year accelerated graduate entry medicine programme, also known as a graduate entry programme (GEP). The British Medical Association has further information about applying to medical school as a graduate.
There are also 'foundation' or 'gateway' degrees available that add a preliminary year to your medical degree. These have been brought in to help widen access to medicine. For more information, see the Medical Schools Council (MSC).
Entry into medicine is very competitive and your motivation and commitment are rigorously assessed. Most medical schools expect you to take one of the following tests:
- University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) - the most widely used test
- BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT)
- Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) - mainly used by medical schools that offer the GEP.
Check with individual course providers for details of which test you need to take.
Once you have completed your medical degree you will need to apply for provisional registration as a doctor with the GMC. You can then apply for foundation training, a two-year work-based training programme that allows you to develop your clinical and professional skills in the workplace. Applications are made via Oriel, the national online application system. As part of the application process you will need to pass the Situational Judgement Test (SJT). For full details, see the UK Foundation Programme website.
As part of your foundation training, you'll undertake a series of work placements in different medical or surgical specialties. Once you've satisfactorily completed foundation year 1, you'll be recommended for full registration as a doctor with the GMC. During your second year you'll need to make a choice about which specialty training you would like to undertake following completion of the foundation training.
On successful completion of the foundation training, you're awarded the Foundation Programme Certificate of Completion (FPCC) and can apply via Oriel for training in the specialty of your choice.
Typical specialties include:
- acute care (which divides into further specialties)
To help aspiring doctors decide what area they would like to specialise in, the BMA has created a specialty explorer tool.
Specialty training can be either run-through, where you apply once and progress uninterrupted through your training, or uncoupled, where you complete two or three years of core training before applying again for higher specialty training.
The specialty training programmes vary considerably according to the specialty and can last up to eight years. Details of the different programmes can be found at Medical and Dental Recruitment and Selection.
Successful completion of this training leads to the award of the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). This allows you to register on the GMC specialist register and apply for substantive consultant-level posts in your specialty.
Find out more about training to be a doctor.
For details of training in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, see:
- Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) Education and Training
- Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA)
- Scottish Medical Training (SMT)
You'll need to have:
- personal qualities such as commitment to caring for others, emotional resilience, resourcefulness and stamina
- a willingness to accept responsibility when making decisions about patients
- the ability to prioritise a busy workload and work under pressure
- motivation and perseverance
- the ability to communicate well with people, demonstrating empathy and reflection
- teamworking and leadership skills
- problem-solving skills to think ahead and plan for different contingencies, anticipating different situations that might occur
- negotiation skills in order to reach solutions to complex, and often competing, needs
- the ability to remain calm and in control under pressure
- the confidence to justify your decisions in high-pressure situations
- the ability to manage your time and resources effectively
- a flexible approach to work and the ability to consider all factors before reaching a decision.
Entry to medical school is competitive and some work experience or a placement in a caring or health environment will be expected to get a place. This is to show that you have an understanding of what working in medicine is like and that you appreciate the emotional and physical demands, as well as the skills required.
Relevant work experience, either paid or voluntary, can be carried out in hospitals and GP practices, hospices and care homes or any other environment that involves caring for people. If possible, try to get experience that involves contact with patients and doctors or other healthcare professionals. Varied experience is particularly useful.
Work shadowing or observing doctors can also be helpful to get an idea of what the work involves. Try contacting your local hospital to try and get some work or shadowing experience.
Once you're at medical school, try to choose modules in the area of medicine you would like to specialise in. You could also consider an elective placement. It's also a good idea to join a university society relevant to the specialism you're interested in, e.g. anaesthesia or surgery.
During your foundation training, try to get a rotation in the specialism you would like to work in and make the most of networking opportunities by attending conferences and events.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The NHS is the largest employer of hospital doctors in the UK. There are also opportunities to work in private hospitals and it's possible, particularly at consultant grade, to combine private work with working for the NHS.
There are limited opportunities within the armed forces, with some possibility of working overseas. There are also some opportunities to work within the prison service.
Voluntary and charitable organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), employ small numbers of doctors to work in developing countries.
Look for job vacancies at:
- BMJ Careers
- NHS Jobs - for England and Wales
- NHSScotland Jobs
- Northern Ireland Health and Social Care jobs
- private healthcare websites.
Specialist recruitment agencies advertise jobs.
Individual trusts and hospitals advertise vacancies on their websites and sometimes in printed bulletins.
As a hospital doctor you'll continue learning throughout your career. Continuing professional development (CPD) is essential if you want to remain on the GMC register.
CPD activities can include attending courses, conferences, meetings and workshops, as well as carrying out research and peer reviewing journal papers. The professional body related to your specialist area will have information on the type of CPD you can carry out and how much you should complete each year.
You'll also need to be familiar with and follow the GMC's Good medical practice, which outlines the standards and behaviours expected of you as a registered doctor.
If you wish to integrate more formal teaching into your work, you could study for a qualification in medical education.
Most hospital doctors aspire to become a consultant. As a consultant, you'll be responsible for your own work and for supervising the work and training of all doctors on your team.
You are usually eligible to apply for consultant roles up to six months before you achieve your CCT at the end of your specialist training. You may need to wait longer than this though as extra experience and research is usually needed for competitive posts.
Progression through the grades will involve study and CPD in the form of assessment and examinations. The number of jobs at all levels is determined by current and future service need.
As a consultant, opportunities at managerial level include clinical lead within a team, clinical director of a department and medical director within a trust.
If you wish to take up scientific research and an academic career, you'll need to start early at medical school or during your foundation training as this field is highly competitive.
Health service modernisation, and the increasing emphasis on patient choice and patient safety, mean that there is an increase in accountability and paperwork in all promoted posts.