A career in the medical profession is highly rewarding, although it isn’t the easiest path to take. Whether you want to be a nurse or a doctor, there is a lot of training involved and a lot to learn before finally being qualified to take a role in a UK hospital. Whichever healthcare path you want to take, the first step is to obtain good qualifications at school and then to go to university to study either nursing or medicine. However, especially in the case of becoming a doctor, the training does not stop there. Medical professionals carry on training for many more years, and taking regular continuing professional development courses are also a major point of any career in medicine.
Becoming A Registered Nurse
As a nurse in the UK, it is possible to have a rewarding and diverse career which makes a real difference to other people. As carers, clinicians and leaders, nurses take responsibility for providing care to patients in either a hospital or other medical care setting, with many different roles being available in a wide selection of disciplines from mental health care to helping in an operating theatre. Experienced nurses are able to progress right up the career leader to take roles at a leadership or executive level if they choose.
In order to become a qualified nurse, a nursing degree is essential as well as registration with the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council). There are four different nursing specialisms (learning disability, mental health, child and adult) to choose from. Half of the nursing degree is spent studying at university and the other half takes place in community settings and local hospitals learning practical skills on placement.
There are many universities in the UK offering degrees in nursing including the Open University. Applicants must apply through the UCAS system, and while all universities select their own entrance criteria, usually there is a requirement of 5 GCSE and 2 A levels. Good numeracy and literacy skills are important. Applicants must also have their police record and health records checked.
Once the nursing degree has been completed, it’s possible to apply directly for positions in healthcare settings anywhere in the UK, where further professional development will be offered in order to progress up the career ladder.
Becoming A Doctor
The first step to becoming a doctor in the UK is to be accepted for a medical degree at university. Most universities offering these courses have high educational requirements for their applicants and high grades are often a prerequisite. Students attend medical school for between 4 and 7 years, with the average being 5 years for those who have come straight from A level study.
While undertaking a medical degree, students go on a number of clinical placements which involve supervised practice a range of medical approved settings including private hospitals, teaching hospitals, clinics, health centres in the community, specialist areas like drug and alcohol services or early childhood services.
During these placements, students take part in a number of relevant activities which help to inform their practice and give a good grounding in the basics of being a medical practitioner. Including:
- Going on consultant ward rounds
- Going on ward rounds with other doctors in training
- Going on ward rounds with specialist nurses
- Attending clinics with specialist nurses and other healthcare professionals
- Observing surgical procedures in the operating theatre
- Attending outpatient clinics held with junior doctors or consultants
- Attending GP surgeries and going on home visits
- Attending multidisciplinary team meetings with other healthcare professionals like physiotherapists, social workers and nurses
After completing the medical degree, students must then complete a two year foundation programme. This is another course which must be applied for and is a general programme combining training with practical work experience. During this two year period, student doctors will move between medical specialisms and then finally choose their speciality training. Undertaking the foundation training programme ensures that doctors have been fully trained in the basic clinical skills and in the management of patients who are acutely ill. It also helps doctors to develop other essential skill sets like communication skills and working as part of a team. Doctors are paid while they undertake their two year foundation programme and it is their first post following leaving medical school. No one can practice as a doctor in the UK if they have not undertaken this two year course.
The period of training in a specialism can take between 3 and 8 years depending on the speciality chosen. For those who want to become a GP, the training is three years, however for others it is between 5 and 8 years. Paediatrics takes a very long training period of up to 10 years of training after leaving medical school.