What do Doctors do?

Last updated: 05/01/2024

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 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.

Being a doctor is one of the most diverse and challenging professions available.

Types of doctors


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 as the 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

These include 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.


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.

Other medical careers

  • 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, such as global heath, breast cancer, or bariatric surgery.
  • Others may use their medical degree as a starting point for further study. For instance, you could 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 five or six 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 complete two 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, before deciding on a future career.

Core training (CT1–2)

After the two years of foundation training, junior doctors select the major branch of medicine they want to pursue, whether it's 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 four and six years long depending on the specialty. Progression depends on assessments.


You must obtain the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) and complete the specialist training programme to become a consultant. To secure this position, doctors apply directly using their CV (with their academic reputation playing a part in the application process), and then undergo interviews.

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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