Thinking about becoming a doctor in the UK but unsure where to start? If that is the case, you have come to the right place. This article will break down possible pathways into medicine in the UK allowing you to find the best route depending on your background and experience.
UK Licence to Practice:
Regardless of whether you are hoping to practice medicine within the National Health Service (NHS) or in the private sector, all international doctors must obtain registration with a licence from the General Medical Council (GMC) to carry out restricted activities such as writing prescriptions or signing death certificates.
You are advised to consult guidance on registration with the GMC prior to job hunting in the UK; requirements for registration depend on a number of factors, including:
the country in which you gained your primary medical qualification (PMQ),
the type of work you want to do,
whether or not you have completed a period of postgraduate training or an internship.
NHS vs Private:
It is strongly recommended to first work in an NHS hospital to familiarise yourself with the healthcare system and frameworks in the UK. Most available jobs or training positions will be in NHS hospitals; in fact, the NHS is the largest single employer in the UK with over a million employees.
Furthermore, the NHS provides numerous structured recruitment pathways to ensure overseas doctors intending to practise in the UK receive adequate support at all stages of their application.
Most jobs in the private sector, on the other hand, put you in charge of your application, providing little to no support. Not only does this route require a great amount of time and effort on your end, but it also leaves you more prone to complaints and difficulties adjusting to UK practice.
Nonetheless, there are agencies which you may wish to look into which offer recruitment programmes into UK-based private clients as well as the NHS.
Employment vs Locum Contract:
When coming to the UK, you may wish to work on a permanent basis or as a locum doctor. Working as a direct employee of the hospital, you can generally expect to receive more support from your department.
This tends to be on a permanent, longer-term basis, providing you with induction and adjustment periods to help you familiarise yourself with your working environment and responsibilities.
In contrast, a locum contract is usually undertaken on a short-term basis ranging from single day shifts to three months. There are two paths to finding locum work in the UK; the first involves finding temporary medical jobs via the internal NHS staff bank, and the second requires you to register with a locum agency for doctors.
As a locum you are unlikely to receive a thorough induction and will get limited support and time to adjust. Applying for permanent employment positions are hence strongly encouraged.
Training vs Non-Training:
The GMC has a structured postgraduate specialist training programme in place; this involves meeting specific training criteria in order to progress to the next year. To successfully complete such training jobs, it is vital you are well familiarised with the NHS.
Mistakes made because of a lack of knowledge of the NHS will be taken seriously and possibly even lead to medico-legal issues. Non-training jobs, on the other hand, offer a grace period for you to adjust to working in the UK with any support you may need.
Health Education England (HEE) is now the approved sponsor for overseas trainees, and you should consult their guidance on immigration requirements on their webpage. Alternatively, if you are planning to train and develop your skills in the NHS and then return to your country, you may wish to look into the Medical Training Initiative (MTI).
This is a programme allowing international doctors to enter the UK on a Tier 5 visa and undertake a fixed period of training, lasting up to two years.
To decide which route may be best for you, you should get to know to the different grades of doctor posts:
Medical graduates in the UK must complete the two-year foundation programme (FY1 and FY2), which effectively is a pre-specialty training programme.
Following FY2, you will be considered a junior grade doctor and will be eligible for core training (CT1-2/3), specialty training (ST1-2), or GP specialty training (ST1-3) depending on the specialty programme.
After core training and ST2, you can apply for middle grade ST3 posts which run until ST6 or ST8; you should note certain programmes also offer run-through specialty programmes, i.e. ST1-ST8.
After completion of ST8 or GPST3, you are eligible for the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) and can go on to work as a consultant, i.e. a senior grade doctor.
If you are an international medical graduate (IMG) who has completed an internship abroad which meets certain GMC requirements, you will be considered as a doctor who has completed their FY1.
As such, you can apply for non-training posts such as a standalone FY2. If you have not completed an internship, your only option is to commence training as an FY1 in the UK.
It is also possible for you to commence specialty training at ST1/CT1, or even ST3/ST4 level, if you have completed a GMC-recognised internship overseas and meet specific criteria.
However, this is discouraged as you are not offered an adequate adjustment period and are at higher risk of running into serious problems that may result in you getting kicked off the programme. In general, it is more difficult and tedious to begin practising medicine in the UK at later stages in your career.
Your immediate goal should be to get to know the NHS by completing an internship, or start working as an FY1, ideally in a non-training position.
Information for Overseas Doctors. NHS | Healthcareers. Available from: https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/doctors/information-overseas-doctors
International Doctors. British Medical Association. Available from: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/international-doctors
Applying from Overseas. NHS Jobs. Available from: https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/advice/overseas_cand.html
Recruitment of Overseas Doctors and Dentists. NHS Employers. Available from: https://www.nhsemployers.org/articles/recruitment-overseas-doctors-and-dentists
Medical Training Initiative. NHS Employers. Available from: https://www.nhsemployers.org/articles/medical-training-initiative
Overseas Doctor Recruitment. MSI International. Available from: https://www.msiinternational.com/our-clients/overseas-doctor-recruitment
Savvy IMG - https://thesavvyimg.co.uk/the-best-first-job-in-the-uk-for-overseas-doctors/