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What does a hospital doctor do?
A hospital doctor examines, diagnoses and treats patients with various injuries, illnesses and diseases after they have been either referred or admitted to the hospital. They can work in different specialisms, e.g. anaesthetics, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, etc. Therefore, what a hospital doctor does will depend on their specialist area and the patients they see.
Hospital doctors’ duties include talking to and examining patients to make diagnoses, monitoring patients, carrying out medical procedures, prescribing medicines, referring patients to other services and specialists, providing general health advice, etc. Their role will also involve administrative/IT work, such as typing notes, writing reports, keeping records, etc.
A hospital doctor’s main aim is to use their medical knowledge and expertise to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses and prevent diseases and ill health. They improve outcomes for patients needing medical help and can even save lives. Hospitals can be daunting for some patients, and hospital doctors have an essential role in putting patients at ease and helping them to understand more about their medical conditions.
Hospital doctors will work with many people, including consultants, other doctors, nurses and support staff. They will also liaise with others, such as patients and their families, other healthcare professionals, GP surgeries, other hospitals, mental health facilities, care/nursing homes, laboratories, pharmacies, and regulators, such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and local authorities. They may also need to work with the police, coroners and legal professionals if something happens to a patient.
Hospital doctors will predominately work in hospitals in various departments and areas, e.g. accident & emergency, clinics, wards, consulting rooms, laboratories, etc. They will usually work for the National Health Service (NHS) but can also work in the private healthcare sector. There may also be limited opportunities to be a hospital doctor in the armed forces, civil service (e.g. prison doctors) and with medical charities. Some roles enable hospital workers to work overseas. They can also work via an agency or be self-employed as a locum.
A hospital doctor’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including where they work, their specialist areas and the patients they see day-to-day.
Some examples of their common duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Meeting and talking to patients and examining them to diagnose the problem.
- Reviewing patients’ medical notes and histories.
- Monitoring patients whilst in hospital and providing general care.
- Carrying out various investigative and medical procedures, e.g. phlebotomy and operations, and treating patients.
- Prescribing medicines.
- Assisting with the training and supervising of junior doctors, medical students and others working in healthcare.
- Providing general health advice and promoting health education.
- Maintaining patient confidentiality and impartiality.
- Referring patients to other healthcare professionals, e.g. physiotherapists and radiographers.
- Liaising with other healthcare and medical professionals and support staff.
- Completing various paperwork, e.g. notes and reports, and updating confidential patient records.
- Keeping GPs up to date on patients’ diagnoses, care and treatment.
- Conducting research and audits.
- Attending courses, seminars and meetings.
With more seniority and experience, hospital doctors may be involved with managerial duties, e.g. workload planning, staff training and department staffing.
A hospital doctor’s working hours are variable and will depend on their specialty. However, it is not a 9–5 job, and those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working long and unsociable hours. Hospital doctors usually have to work nights, weekends and bank holidays on a rota, and some may be on-call.
Travel and overnight stays may be necessary for some hospital doctors. Overseas work may be an option, e.g. working for the armed forces or medical charities.
What to expect
Being a hospital doctor is not easy, but it is a rewarding career choice. They diagnose patients’ injuries and illnesses and help treat their health and medical conditions. They play a significant part in improving patients’ health and well-being and can even save lives. Hospital doctors can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made a significant difference to patients, their families and society.
There is no shortage of hospital doctor roles, jobs are available nationally, and there are different areas to specialise in. Salaries are competitive compared to other career choices, even at the entry level. However, it does reflect the level of education, training, time and commitment needed to become a hospital doctor.
Boredom will never be a problem for hospital doctors, as their work is very varied and fast-paced. They will see a range of patients from all backgrounds with various medical needs during their shifts. One moment they could have a patient with a severe injury, and the next, they could have someone with a life-threatening illness (depending on their specialty).
The role requires research and investigation, almost like a detective, and will suit inquisitive individuals who like learning. Investigating and diagnosing medical conditions, providing appropriate treatments and seeing patients improve can be very fulfilling.
Even though being a hospital doctor is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Mental demands – hospital doctors will have to see many patients throughout their shifts, which can put time pressures and stress on individuals when juggling different demands. Each patient will have varying medical needs, and some may require emergency care. Hospital doctors will need to be capable of working in these challenging environments. They have a lot of responsibility, and making mistakes could worsen conditions and even cost lives. It can be emotionally demanding to deal with injured or unwell patients and their families.
- Physical demands – being a hospital doctor can be physically demanding. Their hours can be long and unsociable, and they spend a lot of time on their feet, which can be tiring.
- Unpleasant sights and exposure to germs – some medical conditions may be unpleasant to see and treat. There may be bodily fluids, burns, broken bones, wounds, sores, pus, and other unpleasant sights and smells. There is also a risk of exposure to germs. If an individual is squeamish and does not like looking at body parts or is a germaphobe, being a hospital doctor would probably not be the right career path.
- Work-related violence – there is a risk of verbal and physical abuse when working in any healthcare environment. It is usually due to alcohol and drug-related issues, but people can also lash out when in pain or distress or if they have a mental health condition. Employers have a duty to reduce and manage the risk of work-related violence, so there are ways of prevention. However, hospital doctors must be aware of the risk.
- Study, exams and competition – becoming a hospital doctor can take up to ten years. Therefore, individuals must prepare for an intense period of study, work-based learning, tests, exams and registration. Getting into medical school is also extremely competitive, and there are no guarantees that an individual will be successful.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective hospital doctors must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable role. There is no doubt that working in healthcare and with injured or unwell people is challenging and stressful. It is also mentally and physically demanding, and there are time pressures, the working days can be long, and there can be unpleasant sights and violence. However, there are many positives and helping others is why individuals become hospital doctors.
When considering whether to be a hospital doctor, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a hospital doctor
Some of the personal qualities a hospital doctor requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Knowledge of medicine and psychology.
- Enthusiasm for learning and development.
- A passion and commitment to helping people.
- Non-judgemental, empathetic, caring and compassionate.
- Emotionally resistant, confident and assertive.
- Determined, honest, resourceful and trustworthy.
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills.
- Science and technical skills.
- Counselling and active listening skills.
- Thinking and reasoning skills.
- Negotiation skills.
- Problem-solving and analytical skills.
- Observational skills.
- Organisational and time management skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Leadership and teamworking skills.
- Having integrity, motivation, perseverance, sensitivity and understanding.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to take criticism and accept responsibility.
- The ability to work well under pressure, prioritise and juggle different demands.
- The ability to work with other healthcare professionals in multidisciplinary teams.
- The ability to make decisions and use judgement, sometimes quickly, even in difficult situations.
- The ability to be patient and remain calm and confident in challenging and stressful situations.
- The ability to be flexible and manage change.
- The ability to develop relationships with a diverse range of patients.
- The ability to use IT equipment, e.g. computers and hand-held devices, and software packages.
To become a hospital doctor, individuals need to complete a degree in medicine recognised by the General Medical Council. Unlike other undergraduate degrees, which usually take three years full-time, medical degrees take five to six years. A six-year medical degree is typically for those with no science qualifications and includes a one-year pre-medical or foundation year. These are known as foundation or gateway degrees.
Individuals could complete the degree in four years (accelerated four-year graduate-entry programme) if they already have at least a 2:1 degree in a science subject. Further information can be found on the BMA website.
To be accepted for an undergraduate degree in medicine, individuals will typically require:
- At least five GCSEs grades 9 to 7 (A* or A), including English, maths and sciences.
- Three high-grade A levels (AAA-ABB) (or equivalent), e.g. biology, physics and chemistry.
Some universities may ask individuals to pass a University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT), BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) or Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) (the latter for graduate-entry programmes). Getting a placement at medical school is highly competitive, and some institutions may also require a personal statement and interview. The grades and tests will depend on the university entry requirements, and individuals should check before applying.
After completing an approved medical degree, individuals must apply for provisional registration for a licence to practise as a doctor with the General Medical Council (GMC).
Doctors who have achieved an overseas qualification will still need to register with the GMC to practise legally and will be required to pass the PLAB (Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board) test.
After graduating with a degree in medicine and registering with the GMC, individuals must complete a two-year UK Foundation Programme (paid practical training) to help them develop clinical and non-clinical skills. Individuals will be supervised during this period while working across a wide range of medical specialties.
The programme is divided into Foundation Year 1 (F1) and Foundation Year 2 (F2). Individuals will be provisionally registered to practise while completing the first year. After successfully completing F1, they will be eligible for full registration as a doctor by the GMC.
In F2, individuals need to decide on their specialties and what training they will need to undertake. Further information about the UK Foundation Programme can be found here.
After completing F2, individuals will be eligible for the Foundation Programme Certificate of Completion (FPCC), allowing them to apply for specialty training via the national online application system, Oriel.
There are 65 specialties in the UK to choose from, so it can be hard to decide. The British Medical Association (BMA) has a specialty tool to help individuals decide on their specialist areas.
The duration of each specialty training programme differs, but they are usually between five to eight years. Further information can be found here.
Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT)
To become a hospital doctor, individuals must possess a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT). To acquire a CCT, they must complete a GMC-approved specialty programme.
Once an individual has a CCT, they can apply to be added to the GMC Specialist Register and apply for jobs.
The training is slightly different for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Further details can be found on:
Work experience and volunteering
Before applying for medical school, individuals must have some paid or voluntary work experience in a healthcare environment. Practical experience helps individuals understand what is involved in working in a healthcare setting, builds their knowledge and skills, and allows them to appreciate the emotional and physical demands of the job and environment.
Individuals may be able to apply for relevant work experience in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, hospices, care homes, nursing homes, GP practices, ambulance trusts, charities, health centres and other caring environments. Shadowing and observing doctors, especially in hospitals, is recommended to see what the role entails. Individuals could also apply for placements and internships in areas they want to specialise.
Further information and advice on medical work experience can be found on:
- The British Medical Association (BMA).
- The Medic Portal.
- BSMS Virtual Work Experience.
- Local NHS Trusts.
As entry is highly competitive, undertaking relevant and varied work experience can increase an individual’s chances of being accepted into medical school. Where possible, individuals should try and get work experience that involves contact with patients, doctors, GPs and other healthcare professionals.
Learning does not stop once a hospital doctor becomes qualified and registered. Undertaking postgraduate qualifications (part-time) and relevant short training courses can help individuals enhance their employability and keep their knowledge and skills current. It can also help them with entry to medical school.
Most colleges and accredited private training providers provide training courses.
Some examples that may be useful for hospital doctors include the following:
- Equality, diversity and inclusion.
- LGBTQ+ awareness.
- Infection control.
- Needles and sharps.
- PPE in healthcare.
- Mental health and capacity.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Customer service skills.
- Clinical decision-making skills.
- Health and safety, e.g. COSHH, stress and work-related violence.
- Fire safety.
- Data protection and GDPR.
- IT skills.
Professional bodies, unions and associations, such as the GMC, the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), the hospital doctors’ union (HCSA) and the British Medical Association (BMA), can advise on reputable training courses. They also have memberships, events, support services and guidance that can help hospital doctors and give them the means to continue their professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory for GMC registration renewal (revalidation). Also, see CPD courses for doctors for further guidance on CPD.
The training a hospital doctor will require will depend on where they want to work, their specialties and the CPD requirements for GMC registration. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the qualifications and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs can be found on NHS Jobs, BMJ Careers, NHSScotland Jobs, HealthJobsUK, HSCNI Jobs, Bupa Careers and other job sites, such as Armed Forces Careers and Indeed. Also, look at recruitment agencies, as they may offer locum jobs.
More relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for hospital doctors. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement and keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Hospital doctors will be required to undergo an enhanced criminal record check, as they will come into contact with children and vulnerable adults. A criminal record, caution, warning, or conviction may put off prospective employers. It can even affect GMC registration. However, they should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
Where do hospital doctors work?
Hospital doctors mainly work for the NHS but can also work for other employers in the private healthcare sector, civil service, armed forces and the charitable sector. They can also work for agencies as a locum or be self-employed/freelance.
Hospital doctors mainly work in the NHS or private hospitals, usually in cities and large towns. They can work in various hospital departments and areas (depending on their specialty), e.g. outpatients, wards, accident & emergency, operating theatres, laboratories, clinics, consulting rooms, etc.
Some hospital doctors may also work overseas and outdoors in field hospitals.
How much do hospital doctors earn?
The exact salaries for hospital doctors will depend on:
- Where they are in their training.
- The location, i.e. if they are working in London, they will receive a supplement.
- Their experience.
- Their chosen specialty.
- Whether they are employed, self-employed or freelance.
- Their working hours, e.g. full-time, part-time, locum or flexible.
- Whether they work for the NHS, privately or for other employers.
Here are some examples of salaries for England (these figures are a guide only and are subject to change):
- Junior doctors in Foundation Year 1 (F1) – £29,384 a year.
- Junior doctors in Foundation Year 2 (F2) – £34,012 a year.
- Doctor starting specialty training – £40,257 to £53,398 a year.
- Specialty doctors – £50,373 to £78,759 a year.
- Specialist grade doctors – £80,693 to £91,584 a year.
- Qualified consultants – £88,364 to £119,133 a year.
Doctors in training receive additional payments for overtime and an enhancement for working nights and weekends and being on-call. Salaried doctors will also receive further benefits, e.g. pension scheme, sick pay, holiday pay and maternity pay.
There is potential for hospital doctors to earn more if they work in the private healthcare sector or as a locum. Experienced doctors may earn higher salaries if they combine clinical work with research and teaching or become a consultant and combine NHS work with private.
Types of hospital doctor roles to specialise in
Hospital doctors can choose to be salaried or work for themselves or an agency.
There are also many specialties, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Emergency medicine – specialising in working with patients with severe and life-threatening injuries and illnesses. They will work in accident & emergency (A&E).
- Obstetrics and gynaecology – specialising in women-related conditions, e.g. pregnancy, and diseases.
- Ophthalmology – specialising in diseases and injuries of the eyes and visual systems and performing medical and surgical care.
- Paediatrics – specialising in infants, children and young people. There are specialist areas in this field, e.g. general paediatrics and neonatology (babies).
- Psychiatry – specialising in diagnosing, treating and preventing mental health disorders.
- Radiology – specialising in medical imaging, e.g. X-rays, to diagnose and treat injuries and diseases.
- Surgery – specialising in performing operations and invasive medical treatments.
All different hospital doctor roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some may need specific qualifications, e.g. postgraduate and additional training for specialised areas. Hospital doctors will need to know how to diagnose and treat different illnesses and injuries, monitor patients, provide advice, prescribe medications, perform medical procedures and maintain medical notes and records. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for (if employed) and the type of work a hospital doctor wants.
If hospital doctors do not carry out their role effectively and competently, it can cause a patient’s illness or injury to worsen and may even cost lives. It can also affect a doctor’s reputation. In serious cases, they may have their registration and licence to practise revoked (struck off). Therefore, whatever the type of role, hospital doctors must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Standards, technology, drugs, medications, treatments and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, hospital doctors must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant and carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives hospital doctors the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them stay registered with the GMC and allows them to progress in their career.
Joining a professional body, union or association can help prospective and current hospital doctors enhance their skills and overall career. The GMC, the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), the hospital doctors’ union (HCSA) and the British Medical Association (BMA),, offer different levels of membership, CPD, access to industry contacts, support, advice and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within medicine. With more qualifications and experience, a hospital doctor can become a consultant or senior doctor. They could go on to lead a team or manage a department. As a consultant, there are opportunities to become a clinical lead, clinical director or medical director. Alternatively, they may choose to become a self-employed locum or work in private practice.
Knowledge, skills and experience in medicine can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a hospital doctor may want to work in education and training, clinical research and development, or other areas of healthcare. They may also choose to work in different sectors, such as the armed forces or the prison service.
Get started on a course suitable for becoming a Hospital Doctor
Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults (SOVA) Level 2£20 + VAT View course
Customer Service Skills£20 + VAT View course
Safeguarding Children Level 2£20 + VAT View course
Mental Health Act£20 + VAT View course
Equality and Diversity£15 + VAT View course
Infection Control£20 + VAT View course
PPE in Healthcare£20 + VAT View course
Needles and Sharps£20 + VAT View course