Becoming a doctor is a lengthy process and one that takes a lot of dedication and hard work, but for the right candidate it can be a worthwhile pursuit that leads to an enjoyable career. Being a doctor can enable you to specialise in any number of areas, while - as a transferable skill - it can mean you are able to work anywhere in the UK or the world.
In order to be a fully qualified doctor there are several phases that you must pass to progress through to the stage where you can be responsible for your own patients. Even when you have reached this point in your career, it's likely that you will continue to learn and further fine tune or specialise your knowledge.
Undergraduate medical education
This is the first stage that all doctors must complete to become fully qualified. This is usually as part of a University's medical school and will involve several clinical placements in teaching hospitals or in the wider community.
This often includes a standard five-year degree course but students may have to do additional "pre-medical years" if they have done non-science subjects at A level. This 30-week course will bring these candidates up to the same level as other candidates in chemistry, physics and biology. There are also accelerated courses for graduates that last four years.
Perhaps the most challenging part of your medical career, your degree will require a lot of hard work and dedication from candidates. The fast-paced, heavy nature of the course may mean that you have to make certain sacrifices and are unable to enjoy the same university experience as others, but it will be worth it in the end.
Once you have graduated, you will then undergo a programme that aims to better prepare you for the responsibility of having your own patients and enable you to make your own decisions and stand by them. The Foundation Course includes another two years of training, but there will be a stronger focus on the more practical side of being a doctor.
Medical graduates have to submit an application as part of a national process for the two-year Foundation Programme. While on the course, foundation doctors are then distinguished by the year of the programme that they are on - (F1) or (F2). There will be assessments in a range of settings, such as mental health and general practice, at the end of next year, which you will need to pass to progress to the next phase.
Foundation training is managed by specialised schools, which combine medical schools, postgraduate deaneries and healthcare providers. Doctors on this programme are trained and assessed according to a curriculum agreed with the General Medical Council (GMC).
The first year aims to teach foundation doctors a range of skills before they are registered to the GMC. Work-based assessments will form part of your national learning portfolio, which will need to be completed to progress. The second year will consist of four varied three-month placements, which normally includes at least one "shortage specialty" placement such as academic medicine. This gives all foundation doctors the chance to try their hand at a number of different specialities before having to make a decision.
At the end of the Foundation Programme each doctor will have the same generic clinical and non-clinical competencies outlined by the national curriculum.
When your foundation training is completed, you will then have the freedom to choose what area you want to specialise in. This can be anything from neurology to paediatrics to general practice and is the point where you can really play up to your strengths and interests.
The length of this period of training will highly depend on the area you choose to focus on. Some specialisms rely on "run-through" programmes, while others start with "core training".
Training programmes begin with a competitive entry process. There has been a lot of change in this area over the past few years, allowing for more diversity in the type of models that are now available.
Run-through programmes can be part of many specialisms, which you will be enrolled in for the whole duration of your specialty programme. However, some areas - such as surgery - start off with a two-year period of core training and then a further three years learning skills around the hospital in emergency medicine, paediatrics and psychiatry. This aims to give doctors a well-rounded knowledge and skillset, helping them to deal with any issue that may arise during their career.
Whether you are able to progress through this stage will rely on your competency in a number of areas, to ensure that you have learnt everything necessary to further develop your training. For GPs, this usually takes around three years and up to seven years for other specialities. This normally involves outside help from organisations or postgraduate deans. Once complete, you will be closer to being awarded a Certificate of Completion Training (CCT).
Being a doctor can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career that can also give you plenty of room to progress and boost your own knowledge and skillset. So if you consider yourself to be someone that could rise to the challenge, why not look further into the best route for you?
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