Medical education in the United Kingdom

Medical education in the United Kingdom

Medical education in the United Kingdom includes educational activities involved in the education and training of medical doctors in the United Kingdom, from entry-level training through to continuing education of qualified specialists. A typical outline of the medical education pathway is presented here. However training schemes vary and different pathways may be available.


Medical school


Like many other university degrees, UK medical schools design and deliver their own in-house assessments. This practice is different from, for example, the United States, where a national licensing examination has been in place for over 20 years. Each UK undergraduate summative assessment in medicine is subject to the scrutiny of a formally appointed external examiner.

In 2003 a number of UK medical schools began to work together to increase quality assurance activities in the area of assessment as part of the Universities Medical Assessment Partnership (UMAP). UMAP is a collaborative item banking project seeking to build a quality assured written assessment item bank suitable for high-stakes examinations at all UK medical schools.

Quality assurance of undergraduate medical education

The UK General Medical Council (GMC) has the ability to reverse its endorsement of any medical undergraduate training course as part of its regular visiting schedule should a course fall short of the high standards expected.

Vocational training

Following completion of medical school, junior doctors then enter a vocational training phase. In the UK a doctor's training normally follows this path:

Newly qualified doctors enter a two year Foundation Programme, where they undertake terms in a variety of different specialities. These must include training in General Medicine and General Surgery but can also include other fields such as Paediatrics, Anaesthetics or General Practice.

Following completion of the Foundation Programme a doctor can choose to specialise in one field. All routes involve further assessment and examinations.

The majority of UK doctors work in the community as General practitioners (GPs), who are the first port of call for patients. To train as a GP, after completing the Foundation Programme, a doctor must complete eighteen months of posts in a variety of hospital specialities - often including paediatrics, psychiatry, geriatrics and obstetrics & gynaecology. The trainee also has to spend eighteen months as a General Practice Specialty Registrar - a trainee based in a GP practice. After completing this training and the relevant exams, the doctor can become a GP and can practise independently.

Hospital doctors are promoted after sitting relevant postgraduate exams within their chosen specialty (e.g. Member of the Royal College of Physicians MRCP, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons MRCS) and a competitive interview selection process from SHO to Specialty Registrar (StR) and eventually Consultant on completion of the CCT (Certificate of Completion of Training), which is the highest level in a specialty (with the exception of university-linked professors).

The competition is significant for those who wish to attain consultant level and many now complete higher degrees in research such as a Doctorate of Medicine (MD), which is a thesis-based award based on at least two years full-time research; or PhD, which involves at least three years of full-time research. The time taken to get from medical school graduation to becoming a consultant varies from specialty to specialty but can be anything from 7 to more than 10 years.

In the United Kingdom, doctors' training will rapidly evolve in the next twelve months, with the introduction of run-through training. A doctor, after completing their two foundation years, will apply for a single specialty (including general practice) and be trained solely in that specialty for a fixed period of years (typically seven) before being awarded a CCT. These changes will take place in accordance with the government-instituted plan for Modernising Medical Careers.

NHS medical career grades

NHS Medical Career Grades
Old system New system (Modernising Medical Careers)
Year 1: Pre-registration house officer (PRHO) - one year Foundation Doctor (FY1 and FY2) - 2 years
Year 2: Senior house officer (SHO)
a minimum of two years, although often more
Year 3: Specialty Registrar (StR)
in a hospital speciality:
minimum six years
Specialty Registrar (StR)
in general practice:
three years
Year 4: Specialist registrar
four to six years
GP registrar- one year
Year 5: General practitioner
total time in training: 4 years
Years 6-8: General practitioner
total time in training:
5 years
Year 9: Consultant
total time in training:
minimum 7-9 years
total time in training:
minimum 8 years
Optional Training may be extended by pursuing
medical research (usually two-three years),
usually with clinical duties as well
Training is competency based, times shown are a minimum.
Training may be extended by obtaining an Academic Clinical
Fellowship for research or by dual certification in another speciality.

Continuing medical education

Continuing medical education is now mandatory for all doctors, under guidelines from the General Medical Council and Clinical governance

See also

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