Comparing Other Roles in Healthcare

Last updated: 29/08/2021

There are over 350 roles that contribute to the NHS and being a doctor represent just a few. It’s easy to imagine going to medical school is the only way to make a difference in healthcare; many of us grow up with the concept that ‘medicine’ and ‘doctor’ are synonymous. 

However, we are hopeful that this article may open your mind to other options as we explore a few common alternatives to being a doctor. Just a reminder, this list is far from exhaustive and there are many more roles. Considering these careers alongside various routes into medicine will help you choose what you really want for yourself.


A Nurse

As a nurse, your main job will be patient care. There are four specialty areas within nursing:

  • Adult: caring for people aged 18 and above
  • Child: preparing children with illness for a healthy adult life
  • Learning Disabilities: working with both adults and children with learning disabilities to improve and encourage independent living
  • Mental Health: supporting patients to control their conditions either for short or long term 

Pathway: There are three ways to become a nurse. The most common path is completing a nursing degree, often a 3-year course. Postgraduates of a relevant course may be eligible for Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning, enabling completion of the degree in 2 years instead of 3. 

Other pathway options include Nursing Degree Apprenticeships and Nursing Associate. 

A nursing degree apprenticeship is a 4-year flexible route that doesn’t require full time study but you will still need to complete academic study at the standards laid down by the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council). 

Nursing associates work alongside existing nursing care support workers and with further training there is an opportunity to become a registered nurse. 


A physiotherapist

Physiotherapists use exercise and movement to help and treat people with physical problems  and prevent further injury. As part of the NHS, you might work in hospitals or be based in health centres, nursing homes, patient homes, schools, etc. Outside the NHS, you might work for private hospitals, sports clubs or in private practice. 

Pathway: Becoming a registered physiotherapist involves completing a degree or degree apprenticeship in physiotherapy. Full time degrees take 3 years and part time degrees vary from 4 to 6 years. Additionally, postgraduates can take on a 2 year accelerated MSc course before applying for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).


A psychologist

Psychology studies human behaviour, feeling and thought. Healthcare roles within psychology involve helping people with a range of mental issues through observation and psychometric testing to assess a patient’s problem. What you can expect to deal with day to day depends on the specialty within psychology you pursue; examples of which are listed below:

  • Assistant psychologist
  • Clinical neuropsychologist
  • Clinical psychologist
  • Counselling psychologist
  • Education mental health practitioner
  • Forensic psychologist
  • Health psychologist
  • High intensity therapist
  • Psychological wellbeing practitioner
  • Psychotherapist

Pathway: Becoming a psychologist begins with a degree in psychology accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) on the way to gaining the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) of the BPS. If your degree is not in psychology, or does not provide GBC, conversion courses are available. 

From there, you will have to train and qualify in the area of psychology that interests you by undertaking a postgraduate course approved by the HCPC immediately after graduation or after working as an assistant psychologist for some time.


A midwife

Within midwifery, practitioners have a very specific role in the NHS in caring for women during pregnancy, labour and birth. They offer valuable advice, and help parents in dealing with the physical and mental expectations of parenthood. The many roles within midwifery can be described as follows:

  • Midwife*
  • Maternity support worker
  • Neonatal nurse
  • Health visitor
  • Newborn hearing screener 

*A common misconception is that loving babies is a good enough reason to become a midwife. However, the reality is that as a midwife, much of the job will involve monitoring an unborn baby whilst providing support to an expectant mother. Becoming a maternity support worker, neonatal nurse, health visitor or newborn hearing screener will offer more chances of interaction with babies. 

Pathway: Training within midwifery involves completing an approved degree in midwifery (3 years) or a midwifery degree apprenticeship (6 years). After this, you must register with the NMC and maintaining registration will require you to go through the process of revalidation every 3 years.

Public Health Worker

A public health worker

This area of profession is perhaps the most drastically different to being a doctor on a day to day basis but in the long run, will put you in the position to protect many more people from health-related threats. Working in public health has a variable job description due to the differences between the many roles included within this umbrella term but all will involve making a difference to people’s health and wellbeing in some way. 

The many roles involved are listed as follows:

  • Director of public health
  • Environmental health professional
  • Health trainer
  • Occupational health nurse
  • Public health academic
  • Public health knowledge and intelligence professional
  • Public health manager
  • Public health nurse
  • Public health practitioner
  • School nurse

Pathway: Because of the broad nature of public health roles, a general career pathway is difficult to describe. Furthermore, actually working in public health does not just involve the NHS but also involves the national government, local government, higher education institutions, community sectors, etc.

Generally, a degree in public health is expected and from there, depending on the sector you wish to pursue, you will need some level of experience to qualify for certain vacancies.

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