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Can You Become A Doctor Without Going To Medical School?

Can You Become A Doctor Without Going To Medical School?

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

To become a doctor, I personally spent 5 years studying at medical school before passing my final exams to graduate.

But is it possible to become a doctor without actually going to medical school at all?

It is possible to become a doctor without going to medical school. Becoming a medical doctor is just one way people can achieve the title. Other options include a PhD by thesis, PhD by publication, an integrated PhD, an online PhD, or by obtaining a professional doctorate.

If you aren’t particularly interested in spending 4-6 years of your 20s studying to become a medical doctor at university, but would love to hold a doctorate, then this article is for you.

Or, perhaps you didn’t get into medical school: it’s a competitive entry process that not everyone can succeed in after all.

Don’t worry, you can still become a doctor without going to medical school- simply read on to find out how.

The Different Types Of Doctor

‘Doctor’ is an academic title given to someone who manages to obtain a PhD (or doctorate) at university. According to research, around 2% of UK adults hold a doctorate degree. Gaining a doctorate is a huge achievement and generally means someone is highly academically gifted.

There are actually 5 different routes to how you can obtain a doctoral degree:

  1. PhD by thesis
  2. PhD by publication
  3. Professional doctorate
  4. Integrated PhD
  5. Online PhD

The most obvious route, besides going to medical school, is gaining a PhD by thesis. To pursue this path you first need to gain a relevant undergraduate degree.

Different Types Of Doctor Pixel Infographic

This usually takes 3-5 years depending on the subject you’re reading. Usually, after obtaining your undergraduate degree, you will then go on to complete a Masters’s degree in a relevant subject (generally taking 1 year).

Obtaining a PhD by thesis can be very expensive. However, there are 7 research councils within the UK that provide different types of funding for PhD students, easing the cost of being a student for such an extended period of time.

After finding a way of being able to fund your studies, either funding them personally, through bursary or by another route, everyone will obtain their PhD in a similar way.

There are also various options for the time frame to complete your PhD. Many people choose to pursue it full time which takes around 3-4 years. However, others choose to study part-time at university and can study for up to 8 years.

During the time you spend studying, you will need to either write your thesis throughout or write it up after completing your research. This will depend on your subject. When you have completed your thesis, it will most likely be between 70,000 and 100,000 words long.

To gain a PhD by publication involves submitting work that has already been published, normally around 5-8 pieces. This route is taken by the majority of those who never had the opportunity to complete a traditional doctorate degree.

A professional doctorate is the type of doctorate which includes being a doctor of medicine as well as a doctorate of engineering or a doctorate of education.

An integrated PhD is a 4-year qualification which involves studying a master’s before progressing to a 3-year PhD.

Finally, an online PhD involves predominantly independent research, as opposed to lectures, meaning this is a great option if you aren’t able to study near your university.

What Degree Do You Need To Be A Doctor?

You may be wondering what specific degree you actually need to become a medical doctor in the UK if there are so many routes to gaining a doctorate.

Well, to be a hospital doctor you’ll need to complete a degree in Medicine recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC) which takes 4-6 years. Following this you need complete 2 foundation years, and finally, specialist training which ranges between 3-8 years.

A medical student examining a specimen slide

Traditionally, to be able to gain a degree recognised by the GMC you’ll need 5 GCSEs, grades 9-7, and 3 A levels which include Chemistry and one other science.

However, from September 2023 it may be possible to obtain a Doctor Degree Apprenticeship which will last for around 5 years (similar/same length to studying Medicine at university) and this will also be recognised by the GMC.

Can You Work As A Doctor If You Didn’t Go To Medical School In The UK?

If you do want to become a medical doctor, yet haven’t studied in England, you may be wondering if it is possible to still become a doctor in the UK.

Many people within the UK wish to study medicine, however, there aren’t enough places for everyone who wants to do it. Therefore, you may have chosen to study abroad but now want to come back to the UK after graduation. Is this possible?

The simple answer is yes, but it can be more complicated than that.

It is super important that you check the qualifications of your chosen university with the GMC. Normally, all medical qualifications taught in the EU should be judged as equal, and even those not taught in the EU may still be accepted- you might just need to take some extra tests.

The problem with this is that with Brexit this could all change, as EU qualifications potentially will be viewed differently if wishing to practice in the UK. The good news is that if you completed your medical degree within the EU before Brexit, you will still have automatic recognition.

It is looking likely that this will continue to apply to any new graduates which is great news for those wanting to study within the EU.

Applying To Work In The UK As An International Graduate

Here’s a quick summary of how you can apply to work as a doctor in the UK if you’re an international medical graduate:

You will first need to take the IELTS. This is the test to show that your English is to a good enough standard.

You will then need to take the PLAB which helps the GMC make sure you have the correct knowledge to practise medicine in the UK. This is a two-part test and once you’ve completed both parts you can apply for a licence to practise.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, there are multiple ways of becoming a doctor without gaining a medical degree. This includes gaining a PhD through a variety of different routes as listed above. This will take you around 3-8 years depending on whether you pursue this full-time or part-time.

To work as a doctor in the UK it’s important to make sure you’ve completed a degree that’s recognised by the GMC and then complete 2 foundation years and speciality training.

Finally, if you choose to study medicine abroad which may make sense for many people, there are ways of coming back to practice in the UK so don’t let that put you off. Just make sure to check your degree is recognised by the GMC.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.