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How To Become A Navy Doctor (UK Joining Process Explained)

How To Become A Navy Doctor (UK Joining Process Explained)

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.

Becoming a doctor in the UK’s Royal Navy could be the best career decision you ever make as a medic.

I’m not a Royal Navy doctor myself but I have a couple of friends who are, so I sat down with them to learn about the process of joining and what the life of a Royal Navy doctor is actually like.

To become a Navy doctor in the UK, you need to either hold a medical degree or be working towards one at university. A candidate needs to pass a number of selection events held by the Navy and then complete a 15-week commissioning course at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

Both my friends who are in the Navy seem to genuinely love their jobs and are always up to exciting stuff around the world.

If you think being a doctor in the Navy might be something you’d like to do, this article will hopefully address some of the big questions you might have about the job and how you can pursue this career path.

Becoming A Navy Doctor

The first key point about becoming a Navy doctor is that the Navy won’t explicitly ‘send you through’ medical school.

You generally have to join either once you’re already at medical school or once you’re a qualified doctor.

There’s no special Naval medical school where only Navy doctors are trained.

How To Become A Navy Doctor Pixel Infographic

Joining The Navy As A Medical Student

You can sign up to the Navy as a medical student once you’ve entered the last 3 years of your medical degree.

This will make you a ‘Medical Officer Cadet’ and you’ll sign the paperwork for a return of service- meaning you need to work for the Navy as a doctor for a certain number of years before you’re allowed to leave.

However, in return for committing to a return of service, you get some serious benefits as a Medical Officer Cadet.

The Navy will pay for your final 3 years’ tuition fees as well as paying you a salary of approximately £19,000 per year.

As a student, that’s some serious money!

As a result of having signed up to the Navy as a medical student, your choices of deanery for your foundation training will be severely limited compared to your civilian counterparts.

Joining the Navy as a doctor has some serious benefits

You’ll only be able to complete your FY1 and FY2 within a military Joint Hospital Group Unit, but that shouldn’t be a massive problem if you’re not absolutely set on going somewhere in particular.

I actually did my foundation training alongside a few Navy foundation doctors at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.

Once you’ve finished your foundation training, you’ll then go to Dartmouth to begin your military training.

Joining The Navy As A Junior Doctor

Alternatively, you can also sign up to the Navy after you complete FY2.

The advantage of this is that you’re still able to complete your foundation programme at any deanery you want- as you haven’t signed up yet.

However, the disadvantage of this way is you don’t benefit from any of the financial incentives given to Medical Officer Cadets.

From speaking to my Navy friends, the people who took this route were more likely to have simply not seriously considered the opportunities the Navy offered until after they’d graduated, rather than making a conscious decision not to become a cadet.

If you are considering this route, I’d recommend getting the ball rolling at least a year before you’re due to complete your foundation programme.

The wheels can turn incredibly slowly in UK military recruiting so it’s always best to give yourself plenty of time to avoid having to delay your initial training (it’s exactly the same as joining as an Army doctor).

Joining The Navy As A GP Or Consultant

The Navy will also recruit you as a fully qualified GP or consultant.

Although you’ve completed all of your medical training you’ll still have to go to Dartmouth to start your military training.

Once you’ve finished this, you’ll be able to immediately start work as a Navy GP or consultant.

Overview Of The Joining Process To Becoming A Navy Doctor

Here’s an overview of the steps you would typically need to take to become a doctor in the Royal Navy:

  1. Medical Qualifications: You need to complete the necessary medical qualifications to become a doctor. This means earning a medical degree (e.g. Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) from a recognised medical school.
  2. Registration: After completing your medical degree, you need to register with the General Medical Council (GMC), which is the regulatory body for doctors in the UK. This registration is essential for practising medicine in the UK.
  3. Application to Royal Navy: Once you’re a registered doctor, you can join the Royal Navy as a medical officer. You would need to go through the regular recruitment process, which includes submitting an application, attending interviews, and undergoing medical and fitness assessments.
  4. Selection: The Royal Navy will assess your suitability for the role based on your qualifications, experience, and personal qualities. This could involve interviews to gauge your motivation, aptitude, and ability to work within a military environment.
  5. Training: If selected, you then undergo training that is specific to your role as a medical officer in the Royal Navy. This training is designed to prepare you for the unique challenges and responsibilities of providing medical care in a military setting. It would cover areas such as military protocols, field medicine, naval operations, and more.
  6. Commissioning: After successfully completing your training, you’re commissioned as an officer in the Royal Navy. This involves taking an oath of allegiance and officially becoming a part of the naval forces.
  7. Service Commitment: As a medical officer in the Royal Navy, you would serve a specific term of service, which could vary based on the terms of your commission. This term of service might involve deployments, postings to naval bases or ships, and providing medical care to naval personnel.

Entry Requirements To Be A Navy Doctor

As discussed above, to sign up as a Naval doctor you need to have completed a medical degree and be registered with the GMC to practice in the United Kingdom.

You can’t join up at school or before you’ve gone to university.

Other entry requirements include:

  • You need to be a United Kingdom national, or Commonwealth citizen, or Dual National.
  • You must be between 18 and 39 years old, but under 39 if you’re not a fully qualified GP or consultant
  • 5 grades A*-C (9-4) Including grade 6 (B) or above in English Language and Maths
  • A BMI between 18 and 28
  • Being able to pass the Naval Swimming Test

To join any of the three services in the UK (Army, Navy or RAF), you also generally need to be in very good health.

Any sort of serious chronic medical condition will normally preclude an applicant from joining.

As part of your application process, you’ll have medical and eye tests conducted by a Ministry of Defence-approved doctor and they often ask for your GP records to be released to them as well.

If you’re not sure whether you’d meet the Navy’s entry requirements or not, I’d suggest your best bet would be to go down to a local recruitment centre and ask them there.

How Much Are Navy Doctors Paid?

As a Navy doctor joining after your foundation training, you’ll earn a minimum salary of £59,000 from day one.

This will then progress up to £66,900 after 2 years as a qualified Medical Officer.

The Royal Navy’s HMS Medway

Pay then progresses according to time served and your seniority as a doctor- for example, as you progress through specialty training your salary will also increase.

Things are a bit different if you’re joining as a fully qualified GP or consultant.

GPs or consultants will immediately jump to an appropriate level on the pay scale, generally being comfortably over the £100,000 a year mark.

Alongside their very competitive pay compared to the NHS, the Navy does also offer some other serious benefits.

These include 6 weeks of paid holiday every year as well as opportunities to take part in adventurous training and sports trips- essentially paid-for trips around the world to do outdoor activities or sports.

How Long Do Navy Doctors Have To Sign Up For?

Because of the amount of time, effort and money the Navy invests in training you up as a military doctor, they will ask that you work for them for a certain number of years after signing on the dotted line.

Exactly how long that time period is depends on how you joined- whether that was as a Medical Officer Cadet, a direct entrant (after FY1/FY2) or as a fully qualified GP or consultant.

You’ll generally initially join on a short commission of between three and six years (from the date of full registration with the General Medical Council if you join as a Medical Cadet), but again exact terms will vary depending on your particular circumstances.

If you decide you want to leave the Navy, you simply have to give 6 months’ notice before the end of your specified return of service.

How Hard Is It To Join The Navy As A Doctor?

I think partly because it is such a brilliant opportunity, the Navy can afford to be quite picky about who they choose to recruit as Navy doctors.

At the end of the day, it is a competitive process that not everyone will manage to get through.

Not only are the medical and fitness standards relatively stringent, but you will also have to compete against other very competent doctors through a series of interviews in order to secure a place at Dartmouth.

However, you may be surprised by how few people actually apply considering what the Navy can offer you as a doctor.

I’d suggest getting into medical school is a more difficult process than joining the Navy as a doctor so if you think it might be for you then I’d definitely give it a shot.

Career Progression As A Navy Doctor

Whether or not you sign up to the Navy in medical school, your first step after graduating as a doctor is to complete your foundation training programme.

This is exactly the same for those who are Naval cadets and those who haven’t yet joined- rotations around different medical departments over a period of two years.

Once you’ve finished this, you’ll then go to Dartmouth.

This is 15 weeks of your initial ‘Phase 1’ training- essentially learning how to be an officer in the Navy, without a focus on medicine or being a doctor.

Following this, you then progress onto ‘Phase 2’ training- specifically learning the skills and knowledge you’ll need to be a doctor on a warship.

After you’ve completed your initial training, you’ll spend 2-3 years as a General Duties Medical Officer (GDMO)- essentially a general junior doctor who the Navy can send wherever they’ll be most useful.

This could be working on a multinational exercise halfway around the world to being the single doctor on a nuclear submarine in the North Atlantic.

During these years as a General Duties Medical Officer, you aren’t progressing up the medical training ladder as such- as you’ll still start as an ST1 when you enter specialty training.

However, although you’re not gaining any seniority on paper that will translate to the NHS, you’ll undoubtedly learn a vast array of soft skills that will be incredibly helpful to you as a doctor.

After your time as a GDMO, you then essentially reenter the NHS to complete your specialty training. This could be 3 years to become a GP or 8 years to become a plastic surgeon.

Over this time, you’re again almost indistinguishable from an NHS trainee- apart from the fact you may wear a Naval uniform whilst in hospital!

Once you’ve then CCT’d (Completion of Clinical Training), you’ll then return to the Navy to be deployed as required as a fully qualified GP or consultant.

Final Thoughts

I’ve got to admit, from what my friends who are Navy doctors get up to it seems like a brilliant career choice if a bit of adventure is your cup of tea.

From disaster relief operations in Hawaii to joint NATO defensive exercises in the North Sea to search and rescue efforts in the UK.

Becoming a Navy doctor is almost guaranteed to lead to an incredibly exciting and varied career, one which your colleagues in the NHS almost certainly won’t be able to match!

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.