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UK Medical Schools: Steps to Become a Doctor

Thinking of a career in Medicine? If you have ambitions of one day becoming a doctor, chances are you’re already aware of the complex training process involved with a career in medicine. Becoming a doctor requires a lot of hard work, training, and perseverance. There are lots of steps involved in the process, and the earlier you begin to think about your options, the better. 

Before you commit, it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what the process involves, how long it takes, and what qualifications you need to train. 

To help you navigate through this, we’ve compiled a list of answers to the top 10 frequently asked questions about clinical medicine and training in the UK. Take a look at them below and make sure you know exactly what you need to do to get started on your journey to becoming a doctor.

1. What do you need to become a doctor? 

One of the most commonly asked questions around how to become a doctor in the UK revolves around the qualifications and experience needed to gain a licence to practice. 

In the UK, there are several elements involved in becoming a registered doctor that can practice in a UK hospital. These include having completed:

  • A five-year degree in Medicine, which has official recognition by the General Medical Council
  • A two-year foundation course of general training in a clinical environment
  • Between two to three years of core medical training (CMT) or Acute Common Care Stem (ACCS) programme - which forms the first stage of speciality training
  • Between four to seven years of specialist training, depending on whether you pursue a chosen area of medicine to work in

It is worth noting that although this is the most commonly chosen route for many aspiring Medics, it is not the only way to becoming a qualified doctor in the UK. For example, if you already have a degree in a science subject, you can usually convert to Medicine on a four-year graduate entry programme - although these usually require a minimum of a 2:1 grade in a science or health-related subject.

If this is something that resonates with you, speak to your university careers service who will be able to provide further information on how to convert to a Medicine programme.

2. What GCSE qualifications do you need to be a doctor?

If you have aspirations of becoming a doctor, it’s important to try and narrow down your decision as early-on in your academic journey as possible. This is because most of the top universities in the UK will take your GCSE grades (or the equivalent) into consideration when reviewing your application. 

Most Medical schools require students to have either a Grade 5-9 (A*-C) in at least the five core subjects: Mathematics, English, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. However, some may expect you to be scoring 7s, 8s, and 9s across your GCSE subjects.

If you’re unsure which universities consider your GCSE grades as part of your entry requirements, browse some courses online. Almost all university websites and prospectuses will outline the grades and subjects you need in their ‘Entry Requirements,’ which can help you have a set goal to achieve.

3. What A-Levels do I need to become a doctor?

When it comes to applying to study medicine, most UK universities specify a specific set of A-level subjects as part of their entry requirements. 

For most top universities in the UK, A-Level chemistry remains one of the most commonly listed subjects on entry requirements. So, if you’re choosing your A-Levels now, make sure you are prepared to study this subject for the next few years. 

Beyond chemistry, other specific A-level subjects vary between universities, although most often require a second science subject. Here are some of the other most commonly requested A-Level subjects:

  • Biology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

It’s often a good idea to select Biology (primarily about anatomy and physiology) as your other option, mainly because of the academic foundations it will provide you with at the start of your course. 

Outside of that, many universities like to see logic-based subjects such as Mathematics and Physics on your application, as this indicates a strong ability to problem-solve, handle data, and work logically through ideas.

Remember that each university has its own entry requirements, so you should check each of the institutions you are applying to, so that you can ensure you meet their A-level subject requirements. 

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4. What do medical schools look for in applicants?

Medicine is a highly competitive subject field, with applications for top UK universities increasing each year. 

As such, university admissions teams usually look for an additional set of requirements from prospective students, outside of your academic achievements in GCSE and A-Level.  This is for two main reasons:

  1. Universities can ensure they are choosing the very most talented, dedicated, and passionate students for their courses.
  2. Admissions teams can be certain that students have had enough relevant experience to determine whether pursuing such a long course of study to become a doctor is the right decision for them.

There are three main components to a Medicine application that admissions teams look for, including: (1) BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) or University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT); (2) Relevant voluntary or clinical experience; (3)  A comprehensive personal statement.

Let’s break these down below.

BioMedical Admissions Tests (BMAT) or University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT)

When you apply for a Medicine degree in the UK, you could be asked to take one of the following tests: the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) or, a BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT).

These tests determine whether you have the skills required to excel on a Medicine degree, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and clear communication. They may also test some of your scientific knowledge to see if you have the academic foundations necessary.

You can find out more about BMAT and UCAT tests here.

Voluntary or clinical experience

In addition to your academic qualifications and training, most Medical schools will also expect you to have completed some relevant paid or voluntary work experience.

Work experience is critical in helping students to gain insight into the working industry of medicine and decide whether it’s a career that’s right for them. It can also demonstrate to university admissions teams that you thrive in care positions and are happy to work in a public-facing role. 

Some examples of voluntary experience you could complete include:

  • Secure a placement in a clinical environment
  • Shadowing a doctor/medical professional 
  • Providing care work in the local community

Personal Statement

When submitting your Medicine application, you’ll need to submit a supporting personal statement in addition to your academic qualifications. 

Essentially, a personal statement is a piece of text, written by yourself, which outlines your ambitions, skills and experiences which are relevant to the course you are applying for. 

It’s a chance for you to demonstrate to prospective admissions officers why you would be a great student for their courses, as demonstrated by your robust set of skills, interests and experiences. 

Your personal statement is one of the first things the admissions teams will use to determine whether you should be considered for a place on their course - so you need to make sure it’s the best it can be. 

For Medicine, this means outlining exactly why you want to pursue this field of study, what qualities you can bring to the role, as well as any supporting evidence to demonstrate your suitability for the course. This means including any relevant extracurriculars for Medicine, such as undertaking clinical or research experience, or even attending a university summer school.

5. How long is a Medical degree in the UK?

One of the most significant parts of your training when becoming a doctor in the UK is obtaining your medical degree. 

Typically, medicine degrees in the UK take five years to complete, or four years for those on a graduate entry programme. The course involves a combination of basic medical science training, as well as clinical experience in real hospital wards. 

Once you’ve graduated, you’ll still need to undertake further training in the form of a two-year-long Foundation Programme. This is completed in a formal hospital environment, where you will be issued a provisional licence to practise as a junior doctor.

6. What kinds of Medical degrees are there?

In the UK, medical degrees don’t differ too much in what they offer. Medicine is a pretty universal subject, and hospitals need doctors from all different universities to share a similar understanding of content in order to treat patients effectively. 

With that being said, there are often a variety of different named courses which usually fit one of four types, These are:

  • Standard Entry Medicine: Usually five-years long, the Standard Entry Medicine Course leads to a bachelor’s degree in Medicine. It can have different names and abbreviations, with some of the most common including; MBBS or MBChB.

  • Graduate Entry Medicine: A Graduate Entry Medicine course is designed for those who have a previous bachelor’s degree but who wish to convert to Medicine. Most medical schools require students to have achieved a minimum of a 2:1 degree, and usually ask for a science or other health-related degree. This degree is usually a four-year accelerated programme. 

  • Medicine with a Preliminary Year: Also referred to as ‘Medicine with a Foundation Year,’ this course takes the form of a five-year Standard Entry Medicine degree, but with an additional introductory year at the start, making it a total of six-years of study. This course is designed for students who may have achieved high A-Level grades but who did not take the required science subjects and therefore require the necessary catch-up training.

  • Medicine with a Gateway Year: For students who are of high ability but have had challenging circumstances during their learning, Medicine with a Gateway Year courses offer a unique entry into Medicine. The courses may differ in what their entry criteria are, changing the entry requirements for applicants who have the potential to do well, but have faced barriers during their education.


7. Which university is best for Medicine in the UK?

There are lots of university league tables available which can help you to understand which universities in the UK offer the best Medicine degrees. 

These measure universities against each other based on a range of factors, including; student satisfaction, graduate prospects, and the type and quality of research they carry out.

Below, we are going to outline the top 10 universities in the UK for Medicine. These results are taken from The Complete University Guide [last updated July 2021].

  1. Swansea University
  2. University of Oxford
  3. University of Dundee
  4. University of Cambridge
  5. University of Edinburgh
  6. University of Glasgow
  7. University of Aberdeen
  8. Queen Mary University of London
  9. Keele University
  10. University of Exeter

8. Can you study medicine online?

If you’re looking to enter the medical field to become a doctor or clinician, then you do need to attend a traditional on-campus medical school, where you can benefit from in-person training in a clinical environment. 

With that being said, there are opportunities to study Medicine courses and other health-related subjects online. These can be used to supplement your knowledge before or during your degree studies, which many include on their personal statements and CVs for university applications.

9. How much does it cost to become a doctor in the UK?

The cost of training is a huge deciding factor for students looking at how to become a doctor. 

Much research has been conducted into the estimated costs, with many agreeing that it costs around £220,000 to train over a five-year degree. However, this number is not exact - as many universities offer varying scholarships and bursaries for students.

In the UK, much of the costs associated with becoming a doctor are down to the tuition fees you will need to pay during your five-year degree course. A lot of your clinical training costs and some tuition fees can be covered by the government, but rent and other associated costs of living will often need to be paid for by you (or by using student loans).

For more information about student loans and tuition fees, UCAS provides a helpful guide.


10. How long does it take to become a doctor in the UK?

Training to become a doctor in the UK does require a significant amount of time. Once qualified, you’ll be responsible for handling the health and lives of others, so it comes as no surprise that training is a long and lengthy process.

As we outlined earlier, before you become a doctor in the UK, you need to first complete a five-year undergraduate degree, where you’ll be equipped with basic medical sciences and complete clinical training on the wards. 

Once graduated, you’ll then enter a two-year Foundation Programme. Here, you will be provisionally granted with a licence to practise in clinical environments. After the first year of training, you’ll be awarded full registration. 

If you then choose to work in a more specialised field, you will then need to complete the additional training, which typically involves:

  • Between two to three years of core medical training (CMT) or Acute Common Care Stem (ACCS) programme - which forms the first stage of speciality training
  • Between four to seven years of specialist training, depending on whether you pursue a chosen area of medicine to work in.

Finally, is it hard to become a doctor in the UK?

One of the most frequently asked, and also most difficult-to-answer questions revolves around how difficult it is to become a doctor in the UK.

To put it simply, no one can answer this except for you. 

Yes, Medicine does require strong A-Level grades in at least one science-related subject, which, if you struggle with science, you’ll probably find it difficult. However, if science is one of your strongest subjects, then you may find the content much easier to understand than others. 

Similarly, if you’re someone that handles pressuring situations easily, then you’ll probably find it easier to handle emergencies and the stresses of the job than someone who is still working on how to stay calm during stressful scenarios. 

The difficulty with answering this question is that how we perceive what is ‘hard’ is subjective. And everyone will have their own take on how difficult it may be. Therefore, it’s critical that you undertake adequate research and experience prior to applying to study Medicine at university, so you can be sure you are making the right decision. 

Discover our Medicine University Summer School

Want to see what studying Medicine at a top UK university is like? Perhaps you’re looking for clarity on whether pursuing a career in Medicine is right for you. Either way, attending a Medicine summer course may be the perfect opportunity for you.

With short, 2-week intensive courses available in Oxford and Cambridge, our Medicine summer courses are designed to introduce you to the practical study of medicine, while also challenging you to consider the ethicalities of human life through analysis of real-life problems. 

From learning how to read x-rays to understanding the importance and complications of communication in emergency situations, our expert tutors will guide you through this exciting subject field during your time with us. 

Interested? Find out more about our Medicine summer courses, or contact us directly to speak with an advisor. 

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Wondering how to become a doctor in the UK? Read our list of the 10 most commonly asked questions and familiarise yourself with the training.

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