Hospital doctors examine, diagnose and treat patients who have been referred to the hospital by GPs and other health professionals. They apply medical knowledge and skills to the diagnosis, prevention and management of disease.

Hospital doctors work in wards and outpatient clinics, predominantly in the public sector (NHS), but also in the private sector.

As well as treating patients, they refer them to a range of other healthcare professionals including nurses, radiographers, pharmacists and physiotherapists.

Hospital doctors work within a number of specialties. Some of the more common areas include:

  • anaesthetics;
  • emergency medicine;
  • general medicine;
  • general surgery;
  • obstetrics and gynaecology;
  • paediatrics;
  • psychiatry;
  • trauma and orthopaedics.

Responsibilities

Specific tasks depend on the specialty - a surgeon's daily tasks are significantly different from those of a doctor working in accident and emergency (A&E) or a general physician.

However, the following responsibilities are likely to be carried out on a daily or weekly basis, regardless of the doctor's specialty:

  • 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 specialties;
  • 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.

Salary

  • Junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 (F1) earn a basic starting salary of £22,636. In Foundation Year 2 (F2) this rises to £28,076.
  • A doctor in specialist training starts on a basic salary of £30,002.
  • Consultants earn a basic salary of £75,249 to £101,451 depending on length of service.

Bonuses are paid for work outside the hours of 7am to 7pm, Monday to Friday or if more than 40 hours are worked per week. The amount varies according to the situation but it is typically 20% to 50% of the basic salary. Medical staff working within private hospitals will be paid on different scales.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Doctors often work very long and unsocial hours, including weekends and nights (usually on a rota basis), although working hours vary according to specialty. Many roles also involve being on-call for certain periods.

What to expect

  • Working conditions vary according to specialty. Settings include wards, consulting rooms, operating theatres, laboratories and special units such as accident and emergency (A&E).
  • A variety of private practice opportunities exist, depending on experience and specialist knowledge. These positions can provide more flexibility or management of your own hours.
  • 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.
  • Opportunities exist in most large towns and cities throughout the country.
  • Working as a locum can provide the opportunity to practise in various locations throughout the UK. It is also possible to travel and work abroad. It may be necessary to move to a different part of the country to get the job you really want.
  • The work may be demanding, both mentally and physically, with long, unsocial hours, and you will be taking responsibility for patients' health and wellbeing.
  • Balancing work with further study for about five years after graduation is usually needed in order to gain specialist qualifications. Training for some roles may be longer than this.
  • Travel is occasionally required as part of the working day. Doctors on an on-call rota system are frequently absent from home overnight.

Qualifications

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.

Entry with an HND or foundation degree only is not possible.

You can complete an undergraduate degree in medicine and will typically need good A-levels in chemistry and biology, plus another science subject such as mathematics or physics. If you have an arts A-level it may be accepted as the third qualification. Undergraduate medicine courses last five years.

It is also possible to study medicine at graduate level after you have already completed another degree. These courses are usually four years long and typically require you to have a science-related degree at a 2:1 or higher. Some medical schools will accept an arts degree so check with individual institutions. A list of medical schools which offer the graduate route is available at British Medical Association (BMA): Applying To Medical School.

The medical school may require you to complete a foundation year if they believe you do not already have sufficient science qualifications. This will then lead into the full programme of study for a medical degree.

It is also possible to apply for the undergraduate route even if you already have a degree, particularly if it is in a non-related subject.

Getting into medicine continues to be highly competitive so your motivation and commitment at entry level are rigorously assessed. Whole books of advice are available, but you can also find some free sample questions and tips for the interview process at ISC Medical. As part of the selection process some medical schools require candidates to complete the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Discover tips on preparing for the UKCAT.

If you undertake medicine as a first degree, funding support will be available through student loans and bursaries. However, if you already hold a degree and are completing the graduate medicine course, you will be required to have your own funding in place.

Financial help and support is available through a number of routes, so research thoroughly to find out what you can apply for. Information on sources of funding is available at:

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • personal qualities such as commitment to caring for others, resourcefulness and stamina;
  • a willingness to accept responsibility;
  • the ability to prioritise workload and work under pressure;
  • motivation and perseverance;
  • the ability to communicate well with people, demonstrating empathy and reflection;
  • teamworking and leadership skills.

Work experience

You will be required to have related experience in a caring or health environment before applying for the degree course. This is to show that you have an understanding of what working in medicine is like and that you appreciate the emotional and physicals 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. Work shadowing or observing doctors can also be helpful to get an idea of what the work involves.

Volunteering opportunities can be found at:

Employers

The vast majority of hospital doctors work in NHS hospitals but there are also an increasing number of doctors in private hospitals.

There are opportunities for private work, particularly at consultant grade, which can be combined with working for the NHS. These opportunities may increase as government policy attempts to address the costs of caring for an ageing population and expensive new treatments. It is predicted that an increasing proportion of NHS work will be contracted out to the private sector.

As a result of proposed changes to healthcare provision there may also be some merging of the traditional roles of hospital doctors and general practitioners (GPs).

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 employ small numbers of doctors to work in developing countries. One of the best known is Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) (Doctors Without Borders). These posts are often very poorly paid, but competitive and hugely rewarding.

Look for job vacancies at:

Specialist recruitment agencies may hold jobs.

Individual trusts and hospitals advertise vacancies on their websites and sometimes in printed bulletins.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Once you have graduated from medical school, you will start a two-year foundation programme, undertaking a series of placements in different specialties and healthcare settings.

Foundation Year 1 (F1) builds upon the knowledge, skills and competences acquired in undergraduate training and allows you to take supervised responsibility of patient care. Once you have satisfactorily completed the F1 stage, you will be recommended for full registration with the General Medical Council (GMC).

Foundation Year 2 (F2) builds on F1 but offers the opportunity to diversify more, with the main focus being on the assessment of key competencies and management of the acutely ill patient in different settings. At the end of this year you will get the award of Foundation Achievement of Competence Document (FACD), which allows you to enter into specialty training. More information is available at Foundation Programme.

During the foundation years, you are given increasing responsibility for patient care. Initially, your work will be closely supervised by more senior doctors but you will take on more responsibility as experience is gained.

After you have completed your foundation programme, you can apply for entry directly into specialist training (ST). This is a competency-based rotational programme, which focuses on your chosen medical area.

Typical specialties include surgery, medicine and acute care, (which divide into further specialties), psychiatry and paediatrics. The training programmes vary considerably according to the specialty. Details of the different programmes can be found at NHS Specialty Training.

Successful completion of this training leads to the award of the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). On receiving CCT, entry to the specialist register held by the General Medical Council (GMC) is then possible.

For details of training in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales see:

Career prospects

Most hospital doctors aspire to become a consultant. They are responsible for their own work and for supervising the work and training of all doctors on their team.

You can apply for consultant roles six months before you achieve your Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), which you get at the end of your specialist training. You may need to wait longer than this though as extra experience and research is often advantageous for competitive posts.

Progression through all the different grades will involve study and continuous professional development (CPD) in the form of assessment and examinations. The number of jobs at all levels of service is determined by current and future service need.

The role of a hospital doctor is increasingly orientated towards management, training, education and mentoring functions, as well as liaising with other specialists.

Opportunities for consultants 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.

Health service modernisation, and the increasing emphasis on patient choice and patient safety, means that there is an increase in accountability and paperwork in all promoted posts. Ethical issues, e.g. euthanasia and the threat of litigation are key themes that doctors need to be aware of as their career progresses.