Doctors in the Royal Navy are termed Medical Officers. They provide medical care to Royal Navy personnel on ships, submarines, or the Royal Marines. They are also deployed in war zones and humanitarian aid operations. There are many benefits of medical jobs in the Royal Navy (Box 1).
Medical Officers work in wide-ranging and rewarding environments with opportunities for overseas travel and learning skills, for example, diving and parachuting. However, working conditions may be challenging and hostile and entail being away from home for many months at a time.
Box 1 – Benefits for Royal Navy medics
Starting salary of £59,319
Bonuses for special skills, promotions and being at sea
Non-contributory pension scheme
Six weeks paid holiday annually
Free medical and dental care
Sports and adventurous training opportunities
Recruitment for doctors in the Royal Navy
The initial stages in the recruitment process for Medical Officers in the Royal Navy are to confirm eligibility (Box 2) and submit an online application form. Subsequently, the Naval Service Recruitment Test (NRST) must be passed. This is a multiple-choice psychometric test which assesses general reasoning, verbal ability, numeracy and mechanical comprehension. Next, there is an informal interview to discuss the recruitment process, the applicant’s suitability for a career in the Royal Navy and the Officer Applicant Questionnaire.
This is a form that allows applicants to outline their skills and experiences. Home life and family, education, work experience, leisure and motivation for joining the Royal Navy are discussed. Next, there are medical and eye tests – which must be performed by doctors that are approved by the Ministry of Defence – and a Pre-joining Fitness Test (PJFT), which involves a 2.4 km run on a treadmill within a specified time. There is also a second interview that assesses the applicant’s suitability for a career as a Medical Officer.
Subsequently, the Admiralty Interview Board (AIB) tests leadership skills and comprises a fitness test, practical leadership tasks, a planning exercise, computer based psychometric tests and a formal interview. It is marked against six competencies: adaptability and initiative, leadership, communication and influence, teamwork and collaboration, values and standards and awareness and understanding. This is a one-and-a-half-day assessment that is undertaken at HMS Sultan. Finally, applicants attend the Medical Officer Selection Board.
Box 2 – Eligibility criteria for Medical Officers
Between 18 and 39 years of age (under 39 if professional training not yet completed)
Medical degree, full General Medical Council (GMC) registration and foundation training in Emergency Medicine and General Practice
British, Irish, Commonwealth or British dual citizenship
Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18 and 28
Naval Swimming Test passed
An alternative route to becoming a doctor in the Royal Navy is to join as a Medical Officer Cadet during medical school. Alongside completing their degree, Medical Officer Cadets learn military skills and spend weekends at the Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) in Dartmouth. They earn a salary and the final three years of their degree are funded by the Royal Navy. Subsequently, foundation training is completed at one of the Joint Hospital Group’s NHS hospitals and features rotations across primary care and emergency care.
Training as a doctor in the Royal Navy
After foundation training, the militarisation phase of Initial Naval Training (Officer) (INT(O)) is completed. This has a duration of fifteen weeks and is undertaken at BRNC. INT(O) comprises, for example, field-craft skills, map reading and survival techniques, leadership, weapon, ceremonial and physical training, basic seamanship, navigation and boat handling and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and damage control training. Next, there is a New Entry Medical Officer course in Portsmouth which features specialist training, for example, battlefield advanced trauma life support and managing nuclear and chemical warfare victims.
Upon successful completion, doctors assume the role of a General Duties Medical Officer (GDMO) on a ship, submarine or with the Royal Marines. To serve with the Royal Marines, the All Arms Commando Course (AACC) must also be completed. For the submarine service, doctors must complete further training in radiation medicine and atmosphere control.
Additionally, they undertake four months of training in submarine operation, warfare, weapons, nuclear propulsion and escape. This is conducted at HMS Raleigh. After completing professional training, Medical Officers are promoted to the Royal Navy rank of Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander. Further promotion to Commander and beyond is on merit.
After three years as a GDMO, doctors may choose to specialise in an area of personal interest and service needs. Specialty training is conducted at an NHS hospital, most commonly at one of the Ministry of Defence hospital units, and both military and civilian personnel are treated. The training programme is the same as for civilian doctors.
Doctors choose from a range of specialties, for example, anaesthetics, emergency medicine, general practice, intensive care medicine, orthopaedics and surgery. Some specialties, for example, submarine, diving, aviation and radiation medicine are unique to the Royal Navy.
There are opportunities for further professional training throughout Medical Officers’ careers. These are internationally recognised qualifications awarded by academic institutions and pre-eminent professional organisations.
Life as a doctor in the Royal Navy
Medical Officers are commissioned for a duration of between three and six years. For Medical Cadet Officers, this is from the date of full registration with the General Medical Council (GMC). Additional options are applying for a medium commission, which has a duration of eighteen years, or a full commission, which lasts until 58 years of age.
Medical Officers work globally. They may be the only doctor aboard a ship or submarine, with responsibility for several hundred personnel with wide-ranging medical needs. The medical team also includes, for example, a practice nurse, a pharmacy technician, medical assistants and dental assistants. In larger vessels, there may be a second doctor. Occupational medicine is central to the job as it is essential that crew members can perform their role. Medical Officers work without direct supervision. Instead, email and satellite phones are used to obtain advice from senior doctors.
In emergencies, they liaise with agents at nearby ports and helicopter crews to arrange immediate transfers to hospitals. Additional duties include teaching, for example, delivering first-aid training to crew members. In between deployments at sea, work is performed at shore establishments. This may be primary care for all personnel or secondary care at one of the Joint Hospital Group’s acute and trauma-based units.
Hours worked per week vary. For example, Medical Officers may operate one or two clinics daily while at sea and six clinics at a naval base and one on an NHS placement while on shore.
There is time to pursue recreational activities while at sea. Medical Officers may utilise evenings on board ships for hobbies, for example, playing musical instruments or art, or for postgraduate study. All ships and shore bases have excellent facilities for individual and team sports and fitness. Additionally, as in other jobs in the Royal Navy, Medical Officers have opportunities to go on research expeditions and adventurous training, for example, mountaineering, caving and parachuting.