Postgraduate qualifications in medicine are a particularly popular options for those with undergraduate qualifications in science. A career working in medicine not only has the potential to be lucrative, but it can also be a fascinating area of study.
If you’re considering going down this particular route, then you may want to consider the many career paths available to you before making a final decision...
Doctor (GP or consultant)
The usual path to becoming a general practitioner is the 5 year MBChB medical degree, or the 4 year accelerated degree available to those who have already graduated in another subject area. This will often be followed by two years worth of training on the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) training programme made up of Foundation Year 1 (F1) and Foundation Year 2 (F2).
Completion of the F1 leads to a full registration from the General Medical Council (GMC), which entitles doctors to practice within the UK. The F2 year allows candidates to sample a range of specialism such as psychology, immunology and general practice.
Following successful completion of the specialist/GP training programme, doctors will be eligible for entry to the Specialist Register or GP Register held by the GMC. Once on the register, doctors can apply for a senior medical appointment, such as a consultant post or a GP. Once qualified, all doctors are appraised annually for the rest of their career to ensure they continue to be fit to practice. They are expected to maintain a Personal Development Plan (PDP) and emphasis is placed on continuing professional development.
The salary for doctors has the potential to be lucrative, but the hours are long. Junior doctors will usually be paid a supplement on top of their basic salary based on the extra hours worked above a standard working week, and the intensity of the work.
In the most junior post (F1) a doctor on a 50 per cent supplement would earn a salary of £32,087. This would increase in the second year (F2) to £39,798.
A doctor in specialist training on a 50 per cent supplement could earn from £43,000 to £67,000. Salaried GPs earn approximately £51,000 to £77,000. Independent GPs can expect to earn between £80,000 and £120,000. Consultants can earn £71,000-£161,000, depending on their length of service and payment of additional performance related supplements.
On qualifying, dentists must be registered with the General Dental Council, the profession’s regulatory body, before they can practice in the UK. Most dentists, after graduating, opt to work as general dental practitioners (GDP), providing dental care to the general public. They may practise under the National Health Service (NHS) or privately – most GDPs see a mixture of NHS and private patients.
GDPs are self-employed and can therefore choose where they work and the hours they keep. Although being self-employed is demanding and running your own business can be risky, it can be very rewarding.
Later on, a dentist may often become a practice owner. Only registered dentists and doctors can own dental practices. As well as treating patients, practice owners are responsible for managing the business and keeping it viable. There is no formal career structure, so dentists can develop at their own pace and pursue the dental specialist areas that interest them.
Dentists can also work part-time in hospitals, teach dental students, or can find work as clinical assistants.
Hospital practice is highly specialised and covers oral surgery, restorative dentistry, children’s dentistry and orthodontics. Hospital dentists tend to see fewer patients than GDPs, but their treatment is usually more complex as they have generally been referred by a GDP or doctor. Patients may be referred with complex medical conditions, congenital abnormalities, complex facial injuries or oral facial disease. Unlike GDPs, hospital dentists receive a salary and generally work as part of a team.
An NHS dentist may earn between £60,000 and £114,000, depending on working arrangements. Salaried dentists employed by the NHS primary care trusts earn between £40,000 and £75,000. Consultants in dental specialities earn between £71,000 and £161,000, depending on the length of service and payment of additional performance related supplements.
The fundamental role of nurses is to care for patients and support their treatment and recovery. They also give support and advice to patients' families and those who care for them as well as promoting good health. Nurses will work closely with other members of a healthcare team and may also liaise with other professionals such as social workers and teachers to ensure their patients get all the support they need. Such is the variety of nursing jobs available that the location of work - and types of duties - may vary enormously.
Nurses must hold a degree or diploma in nursing as recognised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) – a pre-registration programme. Courses such as these are offered at a number of universities and colleges across the UK. Only when they are on the NMC’s register will they be allowed to practice as a nurse in the UK and apply for job vacancies.
Graduates with a relevant degree (e.g. health-related or biology-based) can apply for an accelerated training programme leading to a diploma, postgraduate diploma or a master’s degree. These programmes usually last at least 24 months or longer if studied on a part-time basis.
Nurses will train in one of the four branches of nursing in the UK (adult nursing, children's nursing or mental health nursing). Once nurses are registered, they can specialise or move into other areas of care such as health visiting, mental-health nursing, midwifery, community work and social work.
Salaries start from £25,424 a year for NHS nurses, rising to up to £31,779 for specialist nurses and £37,326 for nurses with advanced skills or in team management roles.
Some people know what they want to do with their life from the moment they can talk, but others take a little longer to make a decision. Of course, as a career, medicine is not only a difficult industry to get into, but requires your knowledge to be constantly up-to-date if you want to progress.
Of course, to get into the medical profession, it isn’t always essential to have an undergraduate qualification in medicine (although this does help significantly). As long as you can demonstrate your knowledge of the human anatomy and a passion for medical practice, through work experience or previous study, there should be a job available for you within the medical sector.
Entering the Profession
With a Degree in Medicine ...
The majority of individuals entering the medical sector do so having studied medicine or nursing at undergraduate level.
If you’ve already completed an undergraduate degree in medicine, then you should apply for a foundation programme in order to complete your training as a doctor. The foundation programme will last for 2 years and will be followed by a year-long training course to specialise in a specific area.
Without a Degree in Medicine...
However, if this isn’t the case for you, then there are other routes into the profession provided by a number of different postgraduate courses which will equip you with the essential skills. Many Psychology or Special Education students take postgraduate Master’s programmes in Psychiatric Nursing whereas those with degrees in subjects such as Child Development may choose a credited nursing course in specialised subjects such as Paediatrics or Midwifery.
Of course, if this is the case, it is important that you demonstrate some previous knowledge of medicine and first aid through voluntary work experience, either in a hospital environment or with a charitable organisation such as St John’s Ambulance.
If you’ve already had some medical experience, either in a working or voluntary capacity, and you’ve already got a degree becoming a doctor is still an option. A GEM course is a programme of study open to graduates and is popular among qualified nursing staff with medical experience, or those with strong science degrees. The GEM course is a training programme that reduces the standard medical training time by a year. Students will spend 18 months on a pre-clinical course before spending two years covering the practical knowledge covered on the typical undergraduate degree programme. After this, students are able to apply for the foundation programme to complete their training.
Furthering Your Medical Career
Independent Study ...
One of the most popular ways for doctors to progress within their careers is to undertake a PhD or an MD qualification. Both of these are highly prestigious qualifications and, although they are not essential to those wishing to pursue senior positions, they do demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of medicine, a passion for the subject and the ability to conduct research.
There is a significant debate as to which qualification a potential student should choose, and both options have their merits for those wishing to climb up the career ladder. The PhD focuses predominantly on research, whereas the MD is a shorter and more flexible qualification suitable to those wishing to maintain their clinical roles. There are a number of different funding options available for courses of this nature.
Continuing Professional Development ...
Of course, thanks to the development of science, there is a constant need for medical professionals to continuously update their training, irrespective of their rank within the hospital environment. From health and safety management, research and diagnostic techniques to technology training, there are a number of Continuing Professional Development programmes that can last from days to months depending on the subject matter.
One of the great things about working for an institution such as the NHS and other medical organisations is that they are willing to invest a significant amount of money in staff training when necessary, and there’s always plenty of opportunity to further your career. If you entered your profession with a graduate qualification and you’ve gained a few years of experience, then your place of work may be willing to cover the fees of MSc programmes in subjects such as Health, Policy and Finance, specialist nursing programmes or Management and Leadership courses (depending upon their budget). Further study doesn’t come cheap, so this is definitely worth taking advantage of as ir will enhance your CV. Who knows - it may even lead to a promotion.