Medical School

From Medical Student to Doctor

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How do you get from medical student to doctor? What are the steps, how long does it take and why bother?

These are all valid questions, and ones that I think every aspiring young doctor should think about. Below, I will try my best to answer these questions and more, based on my experiences and research as a medical student. While reading, please do note that as a medical student based in London, I am only familiar with the English system. I am always interested to learn more though, so if the process is different wherever you are reading this from let me know!

So let’s start with what can seem like the easiest question.

How long will it take?
The short answer:

5-6 years.

The long answer:

Different medical schools have different course lengths. The standard MBBS degree program takes 5 years to complete. If you were to start straight out of college/sixth form in September 2020, you would graduate in July 2025 and begin your first day as a junior doctor in August 2025.

This is assuming a lot though.

Firstly, to finish in 5 years you would need to pass every year first time. Many medical students fail exams on their first attempt, up to 20%, but on the whole medical schools love to retain students. Most if not all medical schools will offer up to two opportunities for in-year internal resits (such as retaking May/June exams in August/September). At King’s I know that it is written into the university procedures that this needs to be offered, and I suspect many other medical schools will be the same. After all, they go through a lot of effort to choose the right candidates and spend a lot of money training us, they don’t want students to fail.

Secondly, many medical students choose to intercalate. I am planning a whole piece on what intercalation means, and the pros and cons of intercalation, which will be accessible from here. (Please bear with me for that!) In brief, intercalation is taking a year off from medicine to study another course, commonly in a related field of science. You have the choice at some schools to study an undergraduate course or a postgraduate course. With an undergraduate course you are awarded an iBSc (Intercalated Bachelor of Science), which in theory helps you to be competitive in future job applications and research. In a postgraduate course you study a masters just as many people do after their undergraduate degree. This year (the 19/20 academic year) I am intercalating at King’s College London in Imaging Sciences. More on that here.

Clearly, intercalating adds a minimum of one year to your journey from medical student to doctor.

How long will it take me?

I am a bit of an exception to this. I am enrolled on the Extended Medical Degree Programme, which is a 6 year programme. Essentially the first year of the 5 year course is covered in 2 years, along with some other extra content. As I have said before, I am intercalating this year too. So, from start to finish, it will take me 7 years to go from medical student to doctor.

Read more about the EMDP course here.

What steps do I have to take to go from a medical student to doctor?
The short answer:

Graduate. It really is as simple as that. There is an additional exam, the situational judgement test (SJT), that final year medical students must sit. Information on the SJT is available here. As I have yet to sit this exam at the time of writing, I won’t try to explain its complexities. Once I start my preparation for it, I will share what I discover!

The long answer:

In the case that you are attending a registered UK medical school. Your medical school should really educate you and help you with this process, but for your information I have roughly outlined what you will have to go through.  During your final year of study, between late September and mid-October, you must register and apply for the NHS foundation programme. Prior to this you must register for eligibility to apply. This usually closes mid-August, 6 weeks or so before applications open. Here is a great FAQ on applying for the foundation programme.

You may take time out between medical school and starting the foundation programme. However, after a two-year beak an applicant is considered differently to new graduates, with separate criteria.

Please do read more about the General Medical Council’s rules and regulations for Foundation Year 1 here, the Medical School Council’s advice for graduating medical students here and the NHS Foundation Programme website’s information here. All are vital resources for learning about the foundation years and how to apply. Please listen to them over me!

Why Bother?
Short answer:

I’m sorry but here is no short answer for this one. It’s entirely subjective and is a choice that must be made by the individual.

If you are passionate about medicine, helping others, beginning a journey of lifelong learning and self-reflection, then the answer should be obvious. It’s your passion and needs to be your passion for you to be the best doctor you can be.

It is common knowledge that the life of a medical student is hard. The studying is hard, the exams are tough, the support is often little to none and the rewards are delayed by 5 years. It isn’t the right choice for everybody.

Being a doctor is no walk in the park either. While I have yet to experience the ‘life of a doctor’, I have asked many of the doctors I have had the opportunity to interact with during the last four years of medical school about their experiences. It’s hard. And gruelling. And for some strange reason I am incredibly excited for it!

Hopefully you have found what I’ve written above useful and informative. Interested in applying for medicine? I have started a series of posts about getting in to medicine in the UK, under the category Admissions. It includes the academic and non-academic requirements, how to write a personal statement and a breakdown of my own personal statement.

I am always looking to improve my knowledge, writing and understanding, so please leave your comments below, and feel free to get in tough with me directly here.

Thank you for reading!

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Connor is a medical student at King’s College London. For the 19/20 academic year he is undertaking an intercalated iBSc in Imaging Sciences, also at King’s.

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15th January 2020