UK – Doctors

Introduction – Public healthcare is provided under the responsibility of the National Health Service (NHS); the administrative set-up is slightly different in the four nations of the UK: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Most doctors in the UK practise in the NHS. The General Medical Council (GMC) is the regulatory and disciplinary authority for doctors; they need to be registered with the GMC and hold a ‘licence to practice’ issued by the GMC in case of first registration. Ca. 80 % of doctors working in the UK are members of the British Medical Association (BMA). The country has traditionally been a popular destination for foreign doctors from all over the world, in particular India, Pakistan and South Africa, and following the EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007 from Bulgaria, Poland and Romania. According to recent data from the GMC ca. 40% of all registered doctors were trained outside the UK. The NHS has been striving to reduce the reliance on non-UK doctors. Competition for training posts is reportedly fierce, but there is still demand for specialists in various fields and doctors in primary care.

Types of GMC registrationHow to become a doctor – Undergraduate education usually takes 5 years and is completed with a medical degree. Graduates are granted ‘provisional registration’ from the GMC to undertake postgraduate training. After successful completion of Foundation Year 1 (F1) ‘full registration’ is obtained from the GMC. Following Foundation Year 2 (F2) a specialty and general practice training between 3-8 years is completed to become a senior doctor, i.e. consultant or GP principal. There are around 60 different specialties and sub-specialties. Senior doctors are entitled to ‘specialist registration’ or ‘GP registration’ with the GMC. Continuing professional development is now formalized in the GMC’s new ‘revalidation’ (renewal) process.

Hurdles to take for foreigners – Registration requirements with the GMC apply just like for UK-qualified professionals. There is an initial fee for registration and an annual fee to remain on the register. For further information on the GMC registration process click here. EEA-qualified doctors benefit from automatic recognition under Directive 2005/36/EC. Special arrangements still exist for doctors coming from Bulgaria and Romania. Qualifications not subject to automatic recognition, including those of non-EEA doctors (‘International Medical Graduates’, ‘IMGs’), are assessed by the GMC on a case-by-case basis.

Foreign doctors need to have sufficient English language skills. IMGs need to demonstrate such skills in order to be registered with the GMC, usually by passing the IELTS test (International English Testing System) with a satisfactory score (currently: 7.5) and subsequently the PLAB test (Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board), which assesses basic medical competence as well as ability to communicate in English for working purposes. Since June 2014 the GMC may also ask EEA/Swiss doctors to pass an IELTS test (minimum score: 7.5) within 90 days, if there is a concern about their language skills (see bleedle article of 5 July 2014).

Furthermore non-EEA doctors need to satisfy UK immigration requirements. Detailed advice should be sought from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) or from an authorised immigration adviser.

Prominent national job portals include BMJ Careers, the Lancet and the NHS Jobs website .

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Last update: 5 July 2014

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