What do Doctors do?

Last updated: 13/07/2021

A doctor is someone who is qualified to treat people who are ill or injured.

If a doctor is a qualified surgeon, they are able to operate on those who are ill or injured.

Doctors can choose to specialise in different fields, such as the care of the elderly (geriatrics), or the care of children (paediatrics).

Then there's the choice of whether to become a general practitioner (GP) or a general surgeon.

The medical profession faces the challenge of trying to heal people and to keep them as healthy as possible on a daily basis.

The daily life of a doctor involves using both interpersonal skills - i.e. communication - and scientific knowledge.

As a career, being a doctor is one of the most diverse and challenging available.

Illustratration of a briefcase and stethoscope, kidney dish and scalpel and light microscope

Types of doctors

  • Community: 50% of medical school finalists will end up becoming GPs. General practitioners work in the community and see patients of all ages and backgrounds. They are faced with the formidable task of being at the frontline of healthcare, first point of contact in a patient’s care. They diagnose and treat a great deal of patients independently and refer them on to appropriate specialist doctors in hospitals for further medical opinions and advice.
  • Alternative types of community doctors: including those who work in sexual health and in community paediatrics. Doctors who work in hospices also fall under the umbrella term of ‘community doctors’. For example, palliative care specialists work towards controlling symptoms effectively in hospice patients who are terminally ill.
  • Hospitals: Approximately 50% of doctors work in hospitals, either as specialty doctors or as surgeons. There are around 30 key medical specialties to choose from and, within these, there are many sub-specialties. For example, you could train to become an obstetrician and then within this become a sub-specialist in gestational diabetes in high-risk pregnancies.
  • Others: Academic foundation programmes and academic careers mean you can pursue a career in academia. This primarily involves doing research and teaching other students and medical professionals. Some may use their medical degree to go into research-based careers in whatever field interests them: global heath, breast cancer or bariatric surgery, for example. Others may use their medical degree as a starting point for further study. You could, for instance, progress to a dental degree and become a maxillofacial surgeon.

The options at the end of a medical degree are vast and diverse and thus the day-to-day life of a doctor greatly varies.

Why become a doctor? (pros and cons)
Timeline of medical education and training in the UK, from medical school to working as a consultant

Career pathway

  • Medical School
    A student’s time in medical school usually lasts 5 or 6 years, depending on whether the student undergoes an intercalated year. An intercalated year is a year taken out of medical school to study a subject in detail, which is compulsory or optional depending on which medical school is considered. Getting into medical school is extremely competitive. Options include direct entry and graduate entry degrees.
  • Foundation Programme (F1–2)
    Upon their graduation, all medical students will have to do 2 years of foundation training as a junior doctor. This gives them rotations in medicine, surgery and specialties, e.g. psychiatry, general practice, and obstetrics and gynaecology, for them to decide on a future career in one of the pathways.
  • Core Training (CT1–2)
    After the 2 years of foundation training, junior doctors select the major branch of medicine they want to pursue, whether it is medicine (Core Medical Training, CMT), general practice (GP Specialist Training, GPST), surgery (Core Surgical Training, CST) or one of the specialties (such as radiology, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry or ophthalmology). Doctors choosing the CMT/CST route go through various different rotations, in either medicine or surgery, before they apply for a specialty training post.
  • Specialist Training (ST3–8)
    This is the next step when doctors decide on higher training/more specialist training, e.g. to become a cardiologist, within the field of medicine. The training can be between 4 and 6 years long depending on the specialty. Progression depends on assessments.
  • End Game
    Advancement to become a consultant is after the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) is obtained and completion of the specialist training programme. To become a consultant, doctors apply directly using their CV, with their academic reputation playing a part in the application process. They have to undergo interviews to secure the position.
  • Run-through training
    Some specialties can be entered directly after the foundation programme. Some can be joined after finishing the core training programme too. This is due to the merging of core training and specialist training in these cases. This is ideal for doctors who decide what they want to do early in their career.

Some run-through sub-specialties

Run-through specialties in medicine

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