What You Need To Know About The Medical Career Pathway

It may seem far away at the moment, but in the interview, most medical schools like to see that you understand the career path beyond medical school. This post will give you a succinct and generalised structure of medical training, which will be more than enough to get you through an interview question at this stage of your studies.

Author: Matthew Williams

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It may seem a long way off at the moment, but at interview, most medical schools like to see that you understand the career pathway beyond medical school.

Appreciating that climbing through the ranks in medicine is very much a marathon, not a sprint. Potentially undergoing decades of postgraduate training beyond your five or six years of undergraduate study. In many ways, once you graduate the possibilities are endless. This post will give you a succinct, generalised structure for medical training, that will be more than adequate to get you through an interview question at this stage in your studies, or understand your son or daughter’s career path better.



As you know it all starts with getting into medical school.

Either an undergraduate course lasting five or six years, or a post graduate course typically lasting 4 years. Note that many undergraduate courses now offer the opportunity to intercalate, meaning that you may take a year out from medicine in order to study for another degree that compliments what you have learnt already. Essentially, for an extra years work you gain an additional degree, BSc or higher. If you are interested in academia then this might be appealing and indeed gaining an additional bachelors degree is certainly good for your career prospects.

It does, however, have significant implications in terms of cost and the fact it puts you a year behind your fellow class mates. It’s worth sparing a few minutes thought on these issues as, should you be asked about intercalation programmes, discussion of these concerns demonstrates maturity and awareness to a potential interviewer.


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After graduating from medical school you receive provisional registration with the General Medical Council (GMC) before entering onto a foundation programme.

It is at this point that you become a “junior doctor”. Foundation programmes last two years (FY1 and FY2) and are analogous to an apprenticeship. A pro-rata salary with on the job experience and learning as you cycle through a number of medical and surgical specialties. Normally full GMC registration is awarded at the end of FY1. Through offering more general medical training, the purpose of the foundation programme is to bridge the gap between medical school and specialty training.


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After completing the foundation programme…

You will have spent a minimum of seven years in medical training (although the latter two being paid), and it is only really at this point that you get to make some of your own choices and start to specialise. Specialty training comes in one of two forms, either an “uncoupled programme” or a “run through programme”.

  • An uncoupled programme is broken in two, composing of a “core” specialty training programme, and a “higher” specialty training programme. The most common example of this is if you wish to pursue a career in surgery; following foundation years you enter onto a general core surgical training programme that lasts typically two years, before having to re-apply for higher surgical specialty training in your desired surgical specialty.
  • Run through programmes, on the other hand, do not require any re-application and instead once you’re accepted onto a programme your progression is automatic as long as you meet the required competencies along the way. For most specialties this takes between five and seven years, however for general practice it only takes three.



Once specialty training is complete you can finally apply for a senior clinical position as either a consultant, or fellow for example.

The fastest you could achieve this is through training to be a general practitioner (GP), taking a total of ten years (five in medical school, two foundation and three specialty training), meaning full qualifications by a minimum age of 28. Whilst on the one hand this might seem excellent, but if considered from another point of view you realise that now at the top of the career ladder there is nowhere further to progress… except retirement in 40 years time! Therefore it is not uncommon for medics to prolong their training even further by taking years out in research, or exploring different specialties. Discussion of these ideas in conjunction with the facts presented previously, should now allow you to demonstrate an awareness of both the structure and reality of a medical career.


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