How to Become a Doctor in the UK: A Step-By-Step Guide
08 April 2021
Starting your journey to becoming a doctor in the UK
Moving abroad and starting over in a new country can be one of the most terrifying, yet exhilarating adventures you will experience. It is never easy moving to a new country; juggling what to expect from your new role, trying to understand the basics of finding a house, a school for the children as well as familiarising yourself with visa requirements.
This step-by-step guide is designed to give you the information you will need to make a smooth transition.
Our guide will provide you with the following information:
- Before you arrive, how to plan your move, ensure you have the correct qualifications needed and how to start applying for your licence to practice in the UK.
- Practical advice to help you understand what to expect when you arrive in the UK including living expenses, setting up a bank account and finding the best place to live.
- How to settle in at work, a guide to the types of doctors you will come across and how the NHS is structured.
- How to communicate with patients and your colleagues, as well as the customs and practices that might be different in the UK than your home country.
- Doctors annual salaries in the UK
- Working as a doctor in the UK
- How to move to the UK and work as a doctor in the NHS
- How to get ready to move to the UK
- The NHS
- Living in the UK; what to expect
- Resources for doctors moving to the UK
- Useful links
Doctors annual salaries in the UK
£38,698 to £49,036
£41,158 to £76,751
£82,096 to £110,683
£60,455 to £91,228
Working as a doctor in the UK
Income for doctors within the NHS varies upon the role and their experience. Because the NHS is a government-funded organisation, they are not necessarily the highest payers. However, there are other benefits; firstly, getting a job in the NHS allows you to gain a visa to come to the UK. Whilst the pay may not be as good as private work, or work available in other countries, the NHS offers excellent training, structured career progression, between 27-32 days annual leave per annum and, if you chose to stay in the UK, a good pension. You could also negotiate the hours you want to work as part of a contract.
A doctor is considered a well-paid job by UK standards and they are always in high demand. Therefore, you should have no problem funding your lifestyle choice or where you choose to live in most areas across the country.
Whilst you may come to the UK on a visa-basis because of an NHS job, as you gain experience, other options may open up to you.
For example, many consultant-level doctors will also take on private work to top up their salaries.
Once you have a minimum of 3 months experience working in the NHS, you may choose to work as a locum. Locum work is a viable option on a tier 2 or ancestral visa.
Doctors titles explained
Despite the cost to train, it is getting a place to study medicine at university is highly competitive. Students will study for five years, which is almost twice as long as any other standard university courses. Many students will leave university with a debt of £100,000.
Medical students will go into Foundation Year training when they graduate from Medical School. This lasts for two years; the first year is called FY1. During this year, medical students start to really experience working in the NHS, building on the theory and the limited experience they have gained at Medical School.
FY2 is their second year of foundation training. During this year, medical students will gain further experience in two specialties, within different NHS trusts.
This is not a medical term, as such, but slang that is often used by doctors to describe a gap year they may take before going into specialty training.
A junior doctor is any doctor that is still in training and therefore not a consultant. Junior doctors could have up to eight years' experience working as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty. There are other common ways to describe junior doctors:
- ST - Specialty Trainee in a hospital specialty, which includes an STR (Specialty Registrar), or they have a number signifying the amount of years spent in training, e.g. ST4 psychiatry.
- SPR - Specialty Registrar in a hospital specialty.
- SHO - Senior House Officer.
- GPST - Specialty Registrar in general practice.
They are the most senior of doctors who have completed their full training in a medical specialty, and are listed on the GMC‘s specialist register. It can take six to eight years from graduating at Medical School to becoming a specialist consultant. It is the consultant’s responsibility to manage the junior doctors.
Used to describe doctors working through agencies, filling temporary vacancies and shifts in clinical settings. The work is often well paid - if you would like to find out more, talk to the Holt team.
How to move to the UK and work as a doctor in the NHS
In the UK, the main employer is the National Health Service (NHS), run by the UK government. The regulatory body is the General Medial Council (GMC).
To work for the NHS or for a Private Healthcare Organisation, you will need a GMC registration.
There are many different routes you can take to gain your GMC. The route you take will depend on your current medical qualifications.
The GMC registration is designed to ensure all doctors in the UK meet the high standards required to practice medicine.
In many cases, you will need to take further tests to obtain your license to practice in the UK.
One of the tests is the PLAB; if you graduated from a medical school outside of the UK, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you’ll probably need to take the PLAB test.
The Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test it is made up of 2 parts, both of which you must pass.
The first part is a three hour exam which can be completed before you come to the UK. The second part is done in-person in the UK. To do this you may have to come over on a travel visa. If you are at this stage, Holt Doctors can help you organise your visa. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to the PLAB, you must demonstrate a high level of competency in your ability to communicate in the English language. Both the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Occupational English Test (OET) exams are accepted by the GMC. The OET tests your ability to communicate in English in a healthcare setting, whereas the IELTS tests your overall ability to communicate in the English language.
Before you can come to the UK to work, you will need to have a job offer in place. You can find jobs through NHS Jobs or search for jobs on individual trust websites, or work with a Consultancy such as Holt Doctors.
If you feel you would like more support, the team at Holt Doctors are able to identify jobs at hundreds of trusts, and negotiate on your behalf to help you find the right role - talk to the team if you would like to discuss your options at email@example.com
Certificate of Sponsorship (COS)
The Trust that offers you a job will become your sponsor and they produce your COS. The COS is an electronic record of your information. You will be given a COS number by your Trust to be used on your visa (Tier 2).
For more information on this process, please see our post about GMC and working in the UK.
How to get ready to move to the UK
If you’re bringing your family with you, the UK has some great schooling options. The state schools are funded by the government and are free for all pupils.
The education system in the UK is divided into four main parts; primary education, secondary education, further education and higher education. Children in the UK must legally attend primary and secondary education, which runs from about five years old until the student is 16 years old. The standard of state education is measured every few years by Ofstead; they award each school a rating. You can find a school’s rating and read their report on Ofstead’s website.
There are many private schools in the UK, too (sometimes confusingly referred to as public schools). The independent schools offer a wide range of education, whilst many offer boarding options.
If you would like to find out more about the range of independent schools in the UK, Schoolsearch offers a complete guide.
To apply for a school place, you can visit the local council website – School Admissions.
Getting a UK bank account
Unlike some other countries, in the UK you don't have to pay for a bank account! It's worth checking with your existing bank to see if they have a relationship with a bank that has a presence in the UK.
The main banks in the UK include:
All of the above offer international bank account options.
The BBA website is the leading trade association for the UK banking sector. They offer non-UK residents really helpful information about opening an account in the UK.
Relocating to the UK
If you are wondering where you would like to be based, the UK has a wide variety of possible options, whether you want to be in the city or the country, VisitBritain provides really helpful information on specific parts of the UK.
Where you are located may depend on where you can find a job. However, the UK is not a large country and boasts good transport links and road networks, many people who work in cities choose to live in the country and vice versa. Websites such as https://www.moneyexpert.com/home-insurance/safest-places-to-live-uk/ can also provide information relating to safety.
Cardiff (Wales), Edinburgh (Scotland), London (England) and Belfast (Northern Ireland) are the capitals within the UK, with the highest cost of living being London. The most popular housing options are renting and buying. This is usually done through estate agents and properties can be found on Rightmove, where over 90% of houses for sale can be found. If you want to rent once you have chosen your location, local estate agents are often the best places to find rental accommodation.
It is worth noting that the cost of a house varies depending on location and amenities. Another significant factor is the quality of the local schools - Rightmove has a handy school checker tool for this.
Bills you should expect to pay
As well as your rent, there are also other outgoings to consider:
- Council Tax – this is calculated based on where you live and how many people live with you (if you live alone, it’s much less).
- Utilities – gas, water, electricity.
- Television License – the cost of the license is £154 per year for a colour television.
You can visit cost-of-living/UK for further information.
The history of the NHS
On the 5th July 1948, the National Health Service was born. The NHS was founded on the principle that healthcare would be accessible for all people in the UK.
It was the first time healthcare anywhere in the world was available, based on citizenship rather than insurance or fees.
For over 70 years, the NHS has provided healthcare for the general public across the UK. Whilst many question the viability of the model in today’s world, over the last year the NHS rose to the challenge to ensure they were there to support the UK through the coronavirus pandemic.
The British public hold the NHS close to their heart. 77% of the British public polled believe ‘the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it’.
Working for the NHS is seen as something to be very proud of in the UK.
The NHS in numbers
- NHS England is the UK’s biggest employer, closely followed by NHS Scotland. The NHS employs approximately 1.5 million people across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
- The NHS in England treats more than 1.4 million patients every 24 hours.
- Nurses make up the largest part of the NHS workforce, at just under 30%.
- The 6Cs are at the heart of the NHS: care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence – taken from the Compassion in Practice mandate which was drawn up and launched by NHS England’s Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, in December 2012.
- Around one-in-eight staff working in the NHS are from abroad:
The structure of the NHS
There are commissioners who are responsible for an area's strategic healthcare planning.
In secondary care, the commissioners are currently known as CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) and hospitals are run by NHS trusts or foundation trusts. Primary care is commissioned mostly by NHS England (although sometimes can be commissioned by CCGs as well) and provided by GPs. See the King's Fund's video on how the NHS in England works.
Ethical guidance for doctors
Take a look at the General Medical Centre’s website for an outline on ethical guidance, in particular, the Communication partnership and teamwork section. The website will help you find the advice they give to doctors on professional standards and medical ethics. In 'guidance for doctors', they set out the professional values, knowledge, skills and behaviors expected of all doctors working in the UK.
However, don’t worry; Holt Doctors is one of the UK’s leading medical agencies. We work with over 90% of the NHS trusts, with many exclusive contracts. Therefore, we are best placed to support you and help you make a smooth transition to the UK.
Holt Doctors is well-known for their experience and the 5*service they offer. When you choose Holt Doctors, you will be assigned an experienced recruitment consultant to support you every step of the way. From helping you gain full GMC registration and obtain the right visa, to helping you understand the practical aspects of moving to the UK – your consultant is always on hand.
If you are considering moving to the UK, talk to one of the team today.
Living in the UK; what to expect
If you’ve visited England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales, you know how beautiful the UK is. This island nation is a highly sought-after place to live. The UK has a very multicultural society and is open to new religions and cultures; it is seen as a destination of great diversity.
The main language in the UK is English, which is spoken throughout the country. There are a lot of dialects and some of them can be hard to understand, even for English people.
The UK offers a superb outdoor playground and plenty of freedom to walk trails, hills and mountains. Britain is home to some of the most charming, heart-melting villages in the world. With quaint pubs and idyllic stone cottages, these evoke the romance of a time gone by, providing the perfect backdrop for a relaxing rural escape.
You may have heard that we love drinking tea… you heard right! There is a rich tradition of tea drinking in the UK. Whilst many countries love their tea, UK citizens, and the English in particular, are proud of being ‘tea people’. Along with the royal family, Britain is known for its castles and important royal historical buildings. For as small a place as Great Britain is, throughout the years it has produced some amazingly talented and famous people. From Shakespeare to the Beatles to David Attenborough, the famed list goes on and on.
The UK remains a top destination for those looking to make a move, and with good reason. Whether you’re in search of new work opportunities, culture or natural beauty, the UK offers all and more in spades.
Resources for doctors moving to the UK
Medical podcasts are becoming more and more popular on a wide range of subjects, from ethics through to the mental health of clinicians. Here are a few:
This is an interesting series of best practice podcasts to give you a clear understanding of the medical approach in the UK.
The Royal Society of Medicine has several podcasts on a range of topics, find them here.
For buying and renting - www.rightmove.co.uk/
For renting - http://www.theonlinelettingagents.co.uk/property-search/
Register your child for a state school place - www.gov.uk/schools-admissions
Find private schools in the UK - www.schoolsearch.co.uk/
Find out the state school rating for your chosen school - reports.ofsted.gov.uk/
Useful information about opening a bank account for non-UK residents www.bba.org.uk/customers/personal-banking/current-accounts-personal-banking/bank-account-access-in-the-uk-for-non-residents-2/
GET AHEAD BY REGISTERING WITH HOLT DOCTORS
As one of the UK's leading medical agencies, we work with over 90% of NHS trusts with exclusive contracts across the country.
You can be assured our experienced International Team will support you every step of the way – contact them now to discuss your options.
T. 0208 099 6947
Michael was my recruiter who found me a job in the UK. He was very supportive throughout the whole process, helping me to find the most suitable job that fitted my life perfectly. He tracked everything for me, just to help make it easier - I really wasn’t expecting that level of service - Michael changed my life. He is a great recruiter who goes above and beyond - many thanks to him and Holt Doctors.