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What Is A Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship? (UK Full Guide)

What Is A Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship? (UK Full Guide)

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.

A medical doctor degree apprenticeship offers a novel and potentially revolutionary path into medicine for those who may not otherwise have entered the profession.

With it being the first scheme of its kind within the world of medical education, what actually is a medical doctor degree apprenticeship?

A medical doctor degree apprentice will be employed alongside fully qualified doctors in the NHS, whilst also studying flexibly alongside their work. The scheme will allow students to work towards an officially recognised medical degree whilst also earning a salary.

It’s essentially bringing the apprenticeship model, as we know it from other professions such as plumbing or mechanics, and bringing it to the education of doctors.

In this article, I’m going to address all the main questions you may have as a prospective student, including what the apprenticeship entails, how you apply, what the entry requirements are and importantly how much you get paid!

The UK Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship

Originally proposed in February 2021, the medical doctor degree apprenticeship scheme was approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and the Department of Education in July 2022.

The scheme is aiming to take a first intake of 200 students over the next 2 years, as part of a pilot for the program.

The proposal is for apprentices to learn medicine ‘on the job.’

Instead of years in a medical school lecture hall followed by years of hospital placements, the apprenticeship scheme aims to integrate both work and learning for the apprentices.

Apprentices will work on hospital wards alongside fully-qualified doctors: helping them with ward jobs when they can and learning how to be a doctor in the process.

Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship Pixel Infographic

This clinical work will also be balanced with more formal learning at university- lectures, seminars and small-group teaching will all still presumably feature in the medical doctor degree apprenticeship model.

However, instead of paying for the privilege of attending university lectures, medical apprentices will actually be paid for their time.

In return, a hospital trust will expect some meaningful output from them on the wards- taking patient observations, blood tests and assisting with meal times as examples.

After graduating, medical apprentices and traditionally trained university medics will hold equivalent degrees.

Medical apprentices will start work as junior doctors in the NHS in exactly the same manner as any other newly qualified doctor.

How Long Is A Medicine Apprenticeship?

Traditionally, medical school has entailed 4-6 years of full-time study at a university.

Somewhat surprisingly, the apprenticeship model actually directly mirrors this.

The medical doctor degree apprenticeship scheme will generally take 5 or more years to complete, depending if it’s undertaken full- or part-time. Students enrolling with certain prerequisites, such as another healthcare degree, will however likely be able to complete the program in less time.

5 years is the standard length of time it takes a student to complete an undergraduate medicine course, with 4-year programs open to graduates and 6-year programs offered by a selection of universities.

The apprenticeship scheme mirrors this then, with a standard full-time apprenticeship taking 5 years, or 60 months to complete.

If a student were however to choose to work/study on a part-time basis, this timeline would be extended proportionally.

The apprenticeship itself is designed to allow for more flexible learning, in direct contrast to current medical degrees that can’t be studied part-time, with each individual provider being able to decide whether delivery will be full-time or part-time.

One of the main aims of the scheme is to draw allied healthcare professionals, with significant experience, into medicine.

In appreciation of a student’s previous healthcare experience, professionals such as nurses, paramedics or physiotherapists will likely be able to undertake a truncated version of the apprenticeship, graduating as a doctor in less than the standard 5 years.

What Are The Entry Requirements?

The grades students need to meet an offer for medicine are some of the highest out of any university degree.

But what about the entry requirements for a degree apprenticeship?

The entry requirements for the medical doctor degree apprenticeship are broadly 3 As at A-level or equivalent. The apprenticeship’s entry requirements are equivalent to that of a standard undergraduate medical degree, with students requiring a set standard of academic achievement or UCAS points.

Health Education England has specifically said entry requirements “will be the same as the traditional medical degree route for school leavers.”

However, there may be more flexibility than standard courses when it comes to evaluating applicants with other qualifications or experiences.

For example, a distinguished nurse who’s worked in healthcare for the last 8 years may very well be admitted to the scheme with lower A-levels than someone with no relevant work experience.

Additionally, in a similar fashion to traditional degrees, universities will likely also take into account contextual factors and extenuating circumstances when deciding whom to accept.

An important point to note is that the finer details of entry requirements for the doctor degree apprenticeship will be agreed upon between the employer and the medical school- so there will likely be some minor variations across the country.

Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship Salary

There is yet to be exact confirmation on how much a medical apprentice will earn, but all apprentices are entitled to at least the national minimum wage:

  • Under 18: £4.81
  • 18-20: £6.83
  • 21-22: £9.18
  • 23 and over: £9.50

It is however likely that a medical doctor degree apprentice will be paid more than this, and pay is likely to go up as they progress through the apprenticeship.

Pay is also likely to vary depending on geographic location.

For example, due to the significantly higher cost of living in London, apprentices there are likely to be entitled to a higher wage.

This is already reflected in the fact that larger student loans are available to medical students living and working in London compared to elsewhere.

Taking an hourly rate of £10 an hour as an example, if an apprentice were to be working 20 hours a week for 48 weeks a year, then they’d have a salary of £9,600.

While this may not seem like much, I think it’s important to compare it to the alternative: having to pay £9,250 a year just to get access to tuition.

This of course isn’t including living or any other costs, so in total, a medical student pays a lot more than this.

How Do You Apply For A Medical Apprenticeship?

If from what you’ve learnt so far you think you may be a good fit for the scheme, you may be wondering how you can apply.

Applications to the medical doctor degree apprenticeship are made through the NHS Jobs website as well as individual employers’ job notification boards. Apprenticeships may also be offered to existing employees of an NHS trust if they’re deemed suitable candidates.

Unlike traditional medicine courses, applications to the degree apprenticeship programs aren’t made centrally through UCAS with the same October deadline for applications.

A screenshot of the NHS Jobs website

Instead, there’s a lot more scope for local recruitment and admission. For example, a hospital trust offering one of their employees the chance to enrol in the scheme.

The NHS Jobs website is where thousands of NHS vacancies are advertised across nearly every different area of healthcare, with jobs searchable by type or location.

Apprenticeship vacancies will be advertised from the Autumn of 2023, with a pilot programme for up to 200 apprentices over the next two years having been announced in January 2023.

Which Trusts Are Offering Medical Degree Apprenticeships?

As the initiative is rolled out and becomes more established, more and more NHS trusts will presumably buy into the scheme.

At present, the employers involved in creating the standard are:

  • Barts Health NHS Trust
  • Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Black Country and West Birmingham Sustainability and Transformation Partnership
  • Croydon University Hospital
  • East Lancashire NHS Trust
  • East London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
  • The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust
  • Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust

Although these are the employers involved in creating the standard, they may not all initially offer apprenticeship vacancies for the pilot scheme.

It is, however, the individual job notification boards of these NHS trusts that you should be checking if you want to try and apply for a position.

Why Are Medical Apprenticeships Being Introduced?

One of the main hopes of the new apprenticeship scheme is that it will offer an alternative path into medicine for people who might not otherwise have gone to medical school.

The 5 years of full-time study at university required to complete an undergraduate medical degree can be a significant barrier to entry for many people.

Aside from the time, there are significant costs associated with traditional degrees: tuition fees, living costs and textbooks to name a few.

It’s long been appreciated that the medical profession stands to benefit from diversifying the type of student who traditionally attends medical school, so it’s hoped the apprenticeship scheme will help the profession move towards that goal.

Aside from the widening participation aspirations, the fact is the UK is severely deficient of doctors.

“The BMA has estimated that the medical workforce in England is currently short of 46,300 doctors when compared with the average doctor-to-population ratio in OECD EU comparator nations.”

If this scheme can provide a second (and hopefully much cheaper) way of training doctors, it will be of significant advantage to the NHS.

With there not being any current conversion pathway that exists for allied healthcare professionals to transition into medicine, I think there is huge untapped potential that the NHS could use to help plug medical workforce gaps.

Will Apprentice Doctors Be Any Different?

One of the fears that many of the scheme’s critics have is that it will lead to two tiers of doctors: one of doctor apprentices and a second higher tier of traditionally educated medics.

I’ve got to admit, it’s hard to imagine how the same 5 years of theory learnt at medical school can be covered by only attending university on a part-time basis. 

However, the governors of the new scheme, Health Education England, are keen to stress that this will not be the case:

“The Medical Degree Doctor apprentice will do all the training, including the degree, and meet all the professional standards as someone on the traditional route, they will attend the same universities, do the same exams and graduate with the same qualifications.”

While the fact that they graduate with the same qualification can’t be denied, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be some noticeable differences between an apprentice-trained doctor and a traditionally trained doctor.

Observing a surgical procedure

I’m not even saying an apprentice-trained doctor would be worse- I could reasonably imagine some of them to be of a significantly higher standard than ‘normal’ junior doctors!

Rather, there just will presumably be a disparity, either in depth or breadth of knowledge between two doctors graduating from the opposing schemes.

Whether that disparity will even matter is another question entirely.

The NHS regularly recruits doctors trained in other countries, with many European medical schools having significantly lower entry standards and quality of training compared to the UK.

These foreign-trained doctors integrate relatively seamlessly into NHS trusts- I worked alongside a number of junior doctors trained in Prague who were recruited by Derriford Hospital in Plymouth and I can’t say they were in any way second-rate compared to the rest of the team.

What Implications Could The Scheme Have For The Future?

No matter whether the scheme is a success or not, I think it will call into question the heavy theoretical focus some medical schools have in the early years of their curriculums.

If an apprentice-trained doctor can do just as good (if not better) a job of working as a doctor in the NHS despite presumably having missed out on a lot of this theory, it’s only natural to question its value in the traditional degree.

Surveys and studies frequently find that final-year medical students can feel woefully unprepared for starting work as an FY1 doctor in the NHS.

Speaking from personal experience, although I may have been confident that I could take the transition in my stride, there were serious gaps in my knowledge regarding working as a doctor on a hospital ward that quickly became evident.

Over time, working as an FY1 quickly filled these gaps as the learning curve is incredibly steep, but I can’t help but feel a degree program that better prepares doctors for when they actually start treating patients for real can only be a good thing.

Final Thoughts

I think the introduction of the medical doctor degree apprenticeship is incredibly exciting and could forge the way for a significant shift in how the majority of doctors are trained in the UK.

There’s no denying the reality that the NHS is chronically short of doctors, so an innovative scheme such as this may provide a much-needed boost to the NHS’s workforce.

Even if it doesn’t ultimately succeed, I think the medical doctor degree apprenticeship will have an impact beyond its immediate boundaries as a training scheme and does represent an exciting step forward in medical education.

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.