If you are wondering how to become a doctor, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers as a general practitioner within the medical profession, as well as GP job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    General practitioners (GPs) provide medical care for patients in the community. They diagnose and treat illness, disease and infection.

    As a GP, you would see patients in your surgery or visit them at home. You would examine the patient, assess their situation and decide on appropriate action, which could include:

    making a diagnosis
    giving general advice
    prescribing medicine
    recommending treatment
    conducting minor surgery
    referring the patient to a specialist consultant for tests and further diagnosis.
    You would also be responsible for running the practice, alone or in partnership with other GPs. Your duties would include:

    arranging healthcare support from other health professionals, such as physiotherapists and nurses
    administrative tasks such as writing letters and reports, and maintaining patient records
    organising clinics and health education for patient groups, such as pregnant women, smokers and people with diabetes.
    If you were based in a rural practice, you may also use video links to communicate with patients.

    You could develop skills in a specialist area such as minor surgery, mental health, dermatology, diabetes, substance misuse or sexual health (further training and qualifications may be needed for some areas).

    You would often work in a team including practice nurses, health visitors, midwives, counsellors and administrative support staff.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good doctors include:

    a keen interest in science and medicine
    the ability to keep up-to-date with developments in patient care
    a genuine desire to help people
    excellent communication and listening skills
    compassion, integrity and a sense of responsibility
    the ability to put people at their ease and inspire their trust and confidence
    practical skills for examining patients and performing clinical procedures
    the ability to work under pressure and make quick clear decisions
    the ability to work consistently to high professional standards
    good leadership skills and the ability to train, teach and supervise staff.

    How to become a doctor (GP)
    To become a general practitioner, you need to complete:

    a degree in medicine, recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC)
    a two-year foundation programme of general training (see Training section for details)
    specialist training in general practice (see Training).
    To get onto a five-year degree in medicine you will usually need at least five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and science, plus three A levels at grades AAB in subjects such as chemistry, biology and either physics or maths. Check the GMC website for a list of degree courses.

    If you do not have qualifications in science, you may be able to join a six-year degree course in medicine that includes a one-year pre-medical or foundation year.

    If you already have an honours degree in a science subject (minimum 2:1) you may be able join a shortened, four-year graduate entry programme to medicine. Some universities will accept non-science graduates. The British Medical Association (BMA) website has details of course providers.

    When you apply for a degree in medicine, you may be asked to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Universities use this test to help them select students with the personal qualities and mental abilities needed for a career in medicine. Your university will tell you if you need to take the test.

    You can find out more about working as a health professional by gaining some experience (paid or voluntary), for example as a healthcare assistant in a hospital, or care assistant in a residential or nursing home. You could also contact your local hospital about the possibility of observing a qualified doctor at work.

    Training and Development
    As a medical student you will learn basic medical science, communication skills and practical clinical techniques. You will work under supervision in a range of areas including general practice, accident and emergency, and outpatient clinics.

    When you have achieved your degree in medicine, you need to complete two further stages of training to qualify as a GP:

    a two-year foundation programme – during this stage you will be known as a Foundation House Office. You will have the chance to work in a variety of clinical settings, from acute care to mental health. At the end of year one (known as F1) you can achieve full registration with the GMC. By the end of year two (F2) you will make your career choice, for example, to train in general practice. You apply for this programme through The Foundation Programme website.

    specialist training in general practice – this will take around three years to complete and will include spending at least 12 months as a GP registrar in the NHS. During this time you may also work in areas such as paediatrics, psychiatry, geriatrics and general medicine. Applications for this stage will be arranged locally by postgraduate deaneries, for details check the Postgraduate Medical Education Board website.
    You will be assessed throughout your training. If your skills meet the required standard you will be awarded the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). This means you will be eligible to join the GMC GP Register and practise independently as a doctor. This new way of training is part of the NHS Modernising Medical Careers review.

    As a GP you could sit formal examinations leading to membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), but this is not essential. The RCGP website has further details on all aspects of GP training and professional membership.

    To retain your license to practise, you are expected to continue to develop your skills throughout your career and produce evidence of your ongoing education and learning each year. The GMC and BMA have further details.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Foundation house officers can earn between £21,000 and £26,000 a year.
    Doctors in vocational general practitioner training can earn up to £44,000.
    Full-time GP salaries can be around £76,000 a year.
    Independent GPs can earn between £80,000 and £120,000 a year.
    Doctors in training will receive extra payments depending on the hours worked, workload, and the amount of time spent working unsocial hours.

    Job Prospects
    You will find most opportunities for work in general practice, as a self-employed dentist. The Hospital Dental Service also employs around 10% of qualified dentists, and around 6% of dentists work in the Community Dental Service. You could also move from one branch of dentistry to another.

    NHS funded Personal Dental Services, and the proposed Dental Access Centres, may also increase the number of job opportunities within general practice dentistry.

    NHS reforms will see a range of incentives aimed at attracting dentists on career breaks back into the profession, including an estimated £4,000 ‘welcome back’ grant, refresher training and flexible working options.

    Useful medicine and nursing resources:
    Royal College of General Practitioners
    14 Princes Gate
    Hyde Park
    SW7 1PU
    Tel: 020 7344 3051

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