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How To Become An Army Doctor (UK Military Medicine)

How To Become An Army Doctor (UK Military Medicine)

Updated on: December 17, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

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

Working as a doctor in the Army can open the door to some of the most varied, unique and exciting career paths available in medicine.

One of my very good friends is actually in the military, so I sat down with him to be able to write this article all about how to become an Army doctor.

To become an Army 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 Army and then complete an 8-week commissioning course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

From speaking to my friend, there’s actually a lot more that goes into joining the military than just signing on the dotted line!

If you think being a doctor in the Army 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.

How To Become A Military Doctor In The UK

You can join the Army as a doctor essentially at three points in your medical career:

  • As a medical student
  • After you’ve completed your foundation training
  • As a fully qualified GP/consultant

You can’t join the Army as a doctor before you’ve gone to medical school and the Army won’t put you through it.

This means that to become an Army doctor, you have to follow the same path as any other medicine applicant and battle against the same steep competition ratios to secure an offer for medical school.

How To Become An Army Doctor Pixel Infographic

This is pretty much exactly the same case if you want to join the Navy as a doctor as well.

Joining The Army As A Medical Student

Once you’re at medical school you’ll have your first chance to sign up.

You can sign up as a medical bursar once you’re in your last 3 years of university.

So for a 5-year course, this will be the start of your third year and for a 6-year course, this will be the start of your fourth year.

If you become a medical bursar, the Army will give you some money towards your studies but you’ll be obligated to join up and go through training once you’re qualified.

Joining The Army After Your Foundation Training

The foundation training pathway is a two-year training program every newly qualified doctor has to complete.

This is true whether or not you’ve already joined as a medical bursar.

However, it does offer people who didn’t join up in medical school another chance to join the Army.

A group of soldiers walking together

All the military training an Army doctor has to do starts after they’ve completed foundation training- so doctors joining at this point haven’t missed out on anything.

If a doctor joins after the foundation program, they go straight into the officer training at Sandhurst and then begin working as a military doctor.

Joining The Army As A GP Or Consultant

The last option doctors have is to join the Army as a fully-qualified GP or consultant.

After a doctor has completed all of their medical training the Army will recruit them if they need more doctors.

By going down this route you may miss out on lots of the benefits of being a junior doctor in the Army, such as military exercises, exclusive training courses and tours whilst you’re still training, but it does mean you get to complete your medical training on your own terms.

The Army can be quite prescriptive about where you’re allowed to live and work, so by only joining once you’re fully qualified you’ll have had more control over where and what you did as a junior doctor.

What Is The Army Doctor Bursary?

One of the benefits of joining the Army as a doctor is that they can offer financial support for while you’re in training.

Medical students can apply for a bursary of £10,000 per year for the last 3 years of their study, plus a £45,000 lump sum after completing their commissioning course at Sandhurst.

So, if you join as a medical bursar before your final three years of medical school, you could receive up to £75,000 from the Army.

If a doctor joins after their foundation years, or as a GP or consultant, they aren’t eligible for any of this money.

My friend used this money to pay off his student loans, so it was as if the Army was effectively paying for his studies, but you can do whatever you’d like with the money.

The £45,000 lump sum is given after a doctor completes their commissioning course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

This is essentially like basic training for officers in the Army.

It’s 8 weeks of soldiering: learning how to fire a rifle, digging holes and marching.

At the end of the course, you pass out and officially become an officer in the British Army.

What Is A British Army Doctor’s Salary?

An Army doctor will actually earn far more than their NHS counterparts in their first few years of work.

An FY1 doctor in the NHS will earn approximately £29,000 all in.

An Army doctor, however, in their first year of work, will earn approximately £58,000.

That’s just under a 30-grand difference pre-tax!

The reason for this considerable disparity is that Army doctors have to take time away from their medical training in order to complete their military training.

A soldier on a firing range

In their first few years of work as an Army doctor, they’ll be frequently going away on different military exercises or deployments, so they fall behind their NHS colleagues on the medical training ladder.

This means that, in theory, an NHS doctor can reach the top job of consultant quicker.

This means they get to start earning the big bucks of the top positions sooner than Army doctors.

Because of this, the Army front-loads military doctors’ pay in order to try and somewhat compensate for this loss of training seniority.

An army consultant or GP’s pay will in fact be pretty comparable to their NHS counterparts.

How Difficult Is It To Get Into The Army Medical Services?

In order to join the Army as a doctor, you follow almost exactly the same route as a regular officer.

This consists of:

  • A meeting at your local Army careers centre to ensure your eligibility
  • The Army Officer Selection Board which is a 2-day residential event
  • An interview with faculty from the Army Medical Services

Each stage presents its own hurdle to overcome.

The Army Officer Selection Board is the same selection event used to evaluate regular potential officers so can be incredibly challenging.

In terms of actual competition, although there aren’t a huge number of places available each year, generally about 30-40, not a huge number of doctors apply.

So, if you have what it takes to reach the Army’s standard of an officer, you’ll have a good chance of being able to join as a doctor.

Do Military Doctors Go To War?

When I sat down with my Army doctor friend to talk to him about how he joined, he told me how his mum was far from pleased when he told her he’d joined the military.

It’s a natural reaction for parents to have, but hearing about all the cool stuff he’s been able to do through the Army I can totally see what drew him in.

Military doctors would deploy alongside other elements of the Army if Britain ever went to war.

Their job is to save soldiers’ lives and treat the wounded, so to do that they have to be relatively close to the front line.

When you see people shouting “medic!” in war movies, these aren’t actually doctors who crawl up to the wounded soldier under a hail of bullets.

These are other soldiers who’ve had advanced medical training, who would then take the casualty back from the front line to where the doctor would be set up.

Although they’d still very much be deployed as part of the battle, the doctor wouldn’t actually be up firing a weapon at the enemy- as that wouldn’t exactly be in line with their medical ethics!

How Long Do Army Doctors Have To Sign Up For?

In order to reap some of the rewards of being in the military, you do have to sign up for a set amount of time.

If you’re joining as a medical student, this would normally be at least 6 years after graduating from medical school.

However, as I mentioned, both military and non-military doctors have to complete the 2-year foundation training pathway after graduating.

So, considering you’d be doing it either way, the commitment is really only 4 years after finishing the foundation training program.

If doctors join after this point, or as a GP or consultant, their terms of service are a bit different and more dependent on individual circumstances.

Final Thoughts

Military medicine is by no means for everyone, but if it does appeal to you then I think the Army can offer you some incredible opportunities as a doctor.

From getting to travel the world, to better pay than the NHS, to becoming an expert in battlefield medicine.

Although you may have to wait till you’re in medical school to sign up, there’s no harm in setting your sights on a career in the Army beforehand!

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.