Hospital doctors examine, diagnose and treat patients who've been referred to the hospital by GPs and other health professionals
As a hospital doctor, you'll apply your medical knowledge and skills to the diagnosis, prevention and management of disease.
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 and physiotherapists.
You can choose to work within a number of specialties. Some of the more common areas include:
- emergency medicine
- general medicine
- general surgery
- obstetrics and gynaecology
- trauma and orthopaedics.
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 in foundation training earn a basic starting salary of £27,689 to £32,050.
- Doctors in specialist training start on a basic salary of £37,935 rising to £48,075.
- The basic salary for specialty doctors ranges from £40,037 to £74,661.
- Newly qualified consultants earn a basic salary of £79,860 rising to £107,668 depending on the length of service. Consultants may apply for local and national Clinical Excellence Awards. You can also supplement your salary by working in private practice.
Allowances are paid for working nights, weekends and being on call. You'll also automatically be enrolled in the NHS pension scheme.
Figures relate to the pay and conditions of medical doctors within the NHS, which is the largest employer of anaesthetists in the UK.
Income data from NHS Health Careers - Pay for doctors. Figures are intended as a guide only.
Expect to work long and sometimes unsocial hours, including weekends and nights (usually on a rota basis), although working hours vary according to specialty. Many roles involve being on-call for certain periods.
Once qualified and experienced, career breaks are usually possible. However, if the break is longer than two years you may need to carry out some retraining on your return.
What to expect
- Working conditions vary according to specialty. Settings include wards, consulting rooms, operating theatres, laboratories and special units such as A&E.
- 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.
- Opportunities are available in most large towns and cities.
- The work may be demanding, both mentally and physically, with long, sometimes unsocial, hours. You'll be taking responsibility for patients' health and wellbeing.
- 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. It's also possible 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.
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.
Following your medical degree you'll enter foundation training, a two-year work-based training programme that allows you to develop your clinical and professional skills in the workplace. You apply via Oriel, the national online application system, and 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 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 will start your specialist training. This is a competency-based rotational programme, which focuses on your chosen medical area. Typical specialties include:
- acute care (which divides into further specialties)
The 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), which allows entry to the specialist register held by the GMC.
For details of training in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales see:
- Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA)
- Scottish Medical Training (SMT)
- Specialty Training Wales
You'll need to show:
- 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 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. Some NHS Trusts advertise volunteer opportunities through the Do-it volunteering database.
It's also a good idea to join a university society relevant to the specialism you're interested in, e.g. anaesthesia or surgery.
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
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
- 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 gives advice on the standards expected of you as a doctor and learning materials to help you apply the guidance in practice.
If you want to follow an academic research career, you'll need to study for a PhD in an area of original research.
You can take additional postgraduate qualifications while working, including certificate, diploma and Masters courses in medical education. Search for postgraduate courses 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 can apply for consultancy roles 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 often 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.
There are also opportunities to move into academic medicine or research within your specialist area but further qualifications will be required.
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. Ethical issues, such as euthanasia and the threat of litigation, are key topics that you'll need to be aware of and keep up to date with as your career progresses.