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What Is A Hospital Consultant? (The Role Explained)

What Is A Hospital Consultant? (The Role 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.

Within the healthcare sector, hospital consultants play a crucial role in guiding medical professionals and organisations to provide efficient and effective services.

These experts hold a wealth of knowledge and experience, allowing them to offer advice and support aimed at optimising service delivery, patient care and overall operations.

The term ‘consultant’ refers specifically to senior hospital-based physicians or surgeons who have completed their specialist training and are placed on their speciality’s register. They are the most senior level of doctor and are experts at treating patients within their field.

These professionals, distinct from general practitioners, offer their expertise and support to healthcare organisations as they navigate an increasingly complex and competitive landscape.

Their unique skill set positions them to tackle current healthcare challenges, contribute to policy development, and support organisations in meeting their quality and performance goals.

In this article, I’m going to delve deeper into just what it means to be a consultant doctor, including looking at their roles and responsibilities, pay and training pathways.

Roles And Responsibilities Of A Hospital Consultant

Hospital consultants are highly experienced medical professionals who play a vital role in the healthcare sector.

In this section, I’m going to explore the various roles and responsibilities of a hospital consultant, specifically focusing on their clinical duties, teaching and training, and research and development.

Responsibilities Of A Hospital Consultant Pixel Infographic

Clinical Duties

Hospital consultants are responsible for providing specialist medical care and expertise to patients within their field.

They are often the most senior doctors in a hospital and lead a team of junior doctors and other healthcare professionals. Some of their key clinical duties include:

  • Assessing and diagnosing patients referred to them by general practitioners
  • Developing and implementing appropriate treatment plans for hospital inpatients
  • Performing complex surgeries or procedures, if required
  • Supervising and mentoring junior doctors and medical staff
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals to ensure the best possible patient care

Teaching And Training

As experienced and highly knowledgeable medical professionals, hospital consultants often take on teaching and training responsibilities within the hospital setting. This can include:

  • Providing lectures and practical demonstrations for medical students and junior doctors
  • Offering guidance and mentorship to trainee doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Developing and updating educational materials, such as patient information booklets
  • Participating in continuing professional development (CPD) activities to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in their field
Students sat in a university lecture hall
A consultant delivering a lecture to a group of medical students

Research And Development

Many hospital consultants are also actively involved in research and development, either within their hospital or in collaboration with external organisations.

Their research contributions often play a crucial role in advancing medical knowledge and improving patient care.

Some of the key research and development activities undertaken by hospital consultants include:

  • Designing and conducting clinical trials to test new medical treatments or interventions
  • Collaborating with research institutions and other professionals to develop new medical technologies or techniques
  • Analysing and interpreting research findings to inform evidence-based practice
  • Publishing research articles in peer-reviewed medical journals

Becoming A Hospital Consultant

As the top rung on the medical training ladder, the path to becoming a medical consultant is by no means a short one.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Consultant?

Becoming a hospital consultant typically takes just under 15 years, in addition to a substantial amount of hard work and dedication.

In general, it requires completion of medical school, followed by several years of postgraduate training and specialisation.

The entire process can take anywhere from 9 to 17+ years, depending on the chosen speciality and individual career progression.

Education And Training Requirements

To become a hospital consultant, one must first complete a medical degree from an accredited university.

This typically takes four to six years to complete.

Following medical school, aspiring consultants must complete two years of foundation training to gain general medical experience and obtain full registration with the General Medical Council (GMC).

After foundation training, the next step is entering a specialist training programme in the chosen field, such as surgery, general internal medicine, or paediatrics.

The length of these programmes varies depending on the speciality, broadly ranging from five to eight years.

Finally, upon completing specialist training, doctors can apply for consultant posts and be entered onto the specialist register in their chosen speciality.

Specialisation And Career Progression

After completing their specialist training, hospital consultants can choose to further specialise within their field.

For example, a consultant in general surgery may choose to focus on the oesophagus (food pipe), liver, intestine or another sub-speciality.

This additional training can last between one to three years, depending on the chosen sub-speciality.

In terms of career progression, hospital consultants may take on additional responsibilities, such as teaching or research roles, or move into managerial or leadership positions.

Some consultants also choose to work in private practice alongside their roles within the NHS.

NHS Consultant Salary

Consultants in the NHS are typically placed on a pay scale depending on their experience and qualifications.

The basic salary for all NHS consultants, regardless of their specialty, ranges from £88,364 to £119,133.

Newly qualified consultants start at £88,000 and then progressively get paid more as their time in role increases.

As a side note, there is a slight variation in pay for doctors who became consultants prior to 2003.

Local Clinical Excellence Awards (LCEAs) are also given to NHS Consultants to reward outstanding contributions.

These are monetary bonuses used to reward and incentivise good practice and outstanding service in a doctor’s job.

NHS Consultant salaries are subject to annual reviews by the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB), which makes recommendations to the government. New rates are usually applied from the 1st of April each year.

Different Types Of Consultant Doctor

A hospital consultant is a highly experienced and knowledgeable doctor who’s an authority on one particular area of medicine.

For example, an orthopaedic surgeon is an expert at doing hip replacements. A renal physician is an expert at treating kidney disease. But, ask one to do the other’s job and they’d both be pretty lost!

In this section, I’ll explore a few of the different types of consultant doctors and their roles within the medical field.

General Medicine Consultant: A general medicine consultant is an expert in the diagnosis and management of a wide range of medical conditions, usually in adults. They often work alongside other specialists to manage patients with multiple or complex conditions.

Otolaryngologist: Also known as an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) consultant, an otolaryngologist is a specialist who focuses on the treatment of diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. They are skilled in both medical and surgical treatments, including reconstructive and plastic surgery.

Consultant Surgeon: A consultant surgeon is a senior medical professional who specialises in performing surgical procedures across various disciplines, such as general surgery, orthopaedics, or neurosurgery. They are responsible for the assessment, diagnosis, and management of patients requiring surgical intervention.

Paediatric Consultant: A paediatric consultant specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions affecting infants, children, and adolescents. Their role involves working closely with other medical professionals, such as GPs and nurses, to provide comprehensive care for young patients.

A doctor examining a child's foot
A paediatrician examining a child’s foot

Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Consultant: This type of consultant doctor focuses on the health of the female reproductive system, as well as the management of pregnancy and childbirth. They provide care for routine and high-risk pregnancies, treat fertility issues, and manage disorders affecting the female reproductive organs.

Psychiatry Consultant: A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specialises in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental health and emotional disorders. They employ a range of therapeutic methods, including medication, psychotherapy, and behavioural therapies, to help patients achieve mental well-being.

Oncology Consultant: An oncologist consultant is a physician who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. They utilise medical, surgical, and radiation therapies to address the various forms of cancer, and work closely with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.

Challenges And Rewards Of Being A Consultant

Being such a wide-ranging and multi-faceted job, there are a huge number of different challenges and rewards that come with different consultant posts.

However, here I’m going to look at two of the main ones that almost inevitably apply to every specialty.

Work-Life Balance

Being a hospital consultant often comes with a demanding workload, leading to long hours and potentially high stress levels.

Consultants often need to balance their professional commitments with their personal life, ensuring they have time for rest and leisure activities.

Some hospital consultants may struggle with achieving the right work-life balance, which can negatively impact their overall well-being and job performance (sometimes leading to burnout).

Despite these challenges, hospital consultants can very much take control of their schedules by setting boundaries, delegating tasks, and prioritising self-care.

Professional Satisfaction

Hospital consultants play a critical role in the healthcare system, directing and mentoring medical teams to provide high-quality patient care.

Their expertise allows them to identify areas for improvement and implement strategies to enhance service delivery.

This often results in a high level of professional satisfaction, as they have a direct impact on patient outcomes and the overall efficiency of the medical institution.

Hospital consultants also benefit from working with diverse teams, as they collaborate with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to drive change and improvement across the organisation.

This collaboration fosters an engaging work environment where knowledge and experience are shared, promoting personal development and career growth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a doctor and a consultant?

A doctor is a general term for a medical professional who holds a valid medical degree. A consultant is a specialist within a specific area of medicine, such as cardiology or dermatology, who has undergone years of postgraduate training and built up a wealth of knowledge and experience.

What’s the difference between a consultant and a GP?

A consultant is a highly specialised medical professional who focuses on a specific branch of medicine. A GP, or general practitioner, is a medical professional who provides primary healthcare services to the general public and is a ‘specialist’ at having more general medical knowledge.

Final Thoughts

Hospital consultants are invaluable to the healthcare system due to their expertise, leadership skills, and dedication to providing exceptional care.

As professionals who prioritise patient well-being, they help ensure that healthcare organisations remain effective in their services and deliver the best possible outcomes for those in need.

Hospital consultants use their extensive knowledge of their chosen field to provide the highest quality care for their patients and essentially clinically steer the NHS.

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.