What is medicine and healthcare?
Jobs in medicine and healthcare are some of the most rewarding around.
As a doctor, nurse or specialist, you will work directly with people (or animals) with mental and physical illnesses and give lifesaving healthcare and advice.
Behind the scenes, there are also a huge number of scientists researching diseases and the human body to develop new drugs, materials and technologies to help medical professionals give us the best treatment possible.
In the UK, if you work in medicine and healthcare, you can either work for the National Health Service (NHS) – a public funded healthcare provider (which means we all pay for it out of our taxes) – or for private organisations, which charge patients directly for treatment or do commercial research.
What medicine and healthcare jobs can I do?
The NHS alone is the biggest employer in the UK and the fifth biggest in the world! There are a lot of career paths to choose from and chances to specialise. Here’s an overview of the main fields.
Doctors are qualified to diagnose health problems, prescribe medication and treat patients. Many doctors work in hospitals and specialise in a particular area, from emergency medicine to tropical diseases.
Other doctors work as general practitioners (GPs) and deal with a range of patients, providing early diagnosis and referring more serious problems to hospitals.
Consultants are senior specialist doctors who deal with complex cases and are leading experts in their field.
Psychiatrists are doctors that specialise in treating people with mental health disorders like schizophrenia, depression or addictions. They prescribe medication, but also recommend therapies, like analysis and counselling to help patients.
Psychologists work with psychiatrists to analyse patients and to develop, deliver and teach different therapies.
Nurses provide care and advice to patients in hospitals and in the community. They monitor symptoms, consult with doctors, provide treatments and perform procedures.
Nurses specialise in lots of areas including paediatrics (working with children), psychiatric (working with people with mental health disorders), research, surgery, or as health visitors, visiting and assessing patients and vulnerable people in the community.
If you're considering a career in nursing, check out our post on how to become a student mental health nurse.
Midwives specialise in pregnancy and birth. They care for and advise women throughout their pregnancy and help to deliver babies safely.
Surgeons are qualified to perform operations i.e. procedures that involve cutting into the body, to diagnose and treat problems. Surgeons usually specialise in a particular part of the body and it can take around 15 years for them to train after school.
Occupational therapists work with people to help them improve their physical and mental health, whether they have a long-term issue or are recovering after an accident.
Physiotherapists specialise in movement (and often work with sports people) and speech therapists help people to develop or recover their speech.
Medical scientists help us understand the human body and are the brains behind new health technologies and medicines.
- Clinical engineers and prosthetic technicians, who develop artificial limbs.
- Pathologists, who study what causes illnesses and help doctors to diagnose patients.
- Chemists, who develop medicines and new materials that can be used in surgery, like artificial skin.
- Pharmacists, who provide prescription drugs and advice to patients.
Healthcare assistants or carers support people with mental and physical disabilities and work with them in specialist facilities or in their homes. Carers help people with all aspects of their lives, from getting dressed to cooking and providing emotional support.
Nutritionists are on a mission to get us eating more healthily. They give advice on healthy diets and raise awareness about our food choices. They also conduct research into the way we eat and help to develop new food products.
Vets are trained to diagnose and treat animals. They have to train for as long as doctors and can specialise in particular species. Vets are supported by veterinary nurses.
Paramedics treat people at the scene of an emergency and make sure they get to hospital fast. They are trained to provide life support, give medicine and injections, dress wounds and perform some surgical procedures like inserting breathing tubes.
Dentists care for people’s teeth and gums. They can specialise as dental surgeons (you’ll need a medical degree too to do this) or as orthodontists, who correct problems with the growth of our teeth, most commonly with braces.
Dentists are supported by dental nurses and dental hygienists who focus on keeping your teeth healthy to avoid all those horrible fillings in the first place.
Optometrists examine people’s vision and eye health. They can prescribe glasses and treat common eye problems, but are also on the lookout for more serious health issues.
Health services are vast and are supported by managers, admin, finance, HR, and maintenance staff like technicians and porters.
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60 Second Interview: Student Mental Health Nurse
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Is a medicine and healthcare career for me?
If you enjoy caring for people and are curious about how people work and behave, you'll find plenty of rewarding careers in medicine and healthcare.
If you work directly with patients, you will need to be considerate and tolerant, as you will deal with people facing serious issues each day. You will also need to be able to communicate with people in a clear, calm and compassionate way.
Providing diagnosis and treatment are major responsibilities, so you will need to be cool under pressure and be able to cope with difficult and sometimes traumatic situations.
If you work in a hospital, you must be ready to work long shifts as well as nights and weekends, especially at the start of your career.
To train for some jobs, like as a doctor or vet, you must also be prepared to study for a long time to qualify and to keep on studying throughout your career.
How can I start a medicine and healthcare career?
For all medical careers, you should aim for between a 9 and a 4 in English and maths and choose science subjects at GCSE, particularly biology and chemistry.
After this, whatever you choose to do, you will most likely need to complete more study and practical training to get qualified.
Here’s how it breaks down:
A postgraduate qualification is required among many healthcare jobs, including doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, vets, dentists and surgeons.
To qualify for these jobs you should take science subjects at A-level, including chemistry and biology, and then a related medical degree at university, which will take five years and can only be taken at certain institutions.
After that, you will need to complete two or three years of practical training in hospitals, vet practices, dental surgeries and so on. For surgeons, it takes another 10 years of training after medical school to qualify.
To be a nurse, medical scientist, pharmacist, optometrist, nutritionist, midwife or occupational therapist, you will need to complete a degree and then train in your role.
Again, you should take science A-levels, including biology and chemistry, and then either an approved vocational degree in the area you want to work in e.g. nursing or a further postgraduate qualification.
GCSE and A-level
Not all medical jobs require a degree. You can become a paramedic, dental hygienist, veterinary nurse, administrator with GCSEs and on-the-job training.
- Paramedics can train after A-level through a foundation degree, diploma of higher education (DipHE), degree or through a student paramedic post with an ambulance trust. You’ll need a drivers license too.
- Dental hygienists can train after GCSE with a two year General Dental Council approved course.
- Veterinary nurses can either choose a degree or they can train on the job for a City and Guilds or Central Qualifications (CQ) Diploma after GCSE. Volunteering for animal shelters will help you to get into a work-based training course.
You can become a healthcare assistant, dental nurse, pharmacy assistant, technician or hospital porter without any qualifications at all.
There are also apprenticeships available for pharmacy assistants and traineeships for dental nurses. You don’t need qualifications to work as a carer unless you are working with children, but the best route into work is through volunteering.
Volunteer or take a first aid training course with St John's Ambulance to get an introduction to basic treatment in practice and show your commitment.
You could also apply to work as a life guard at your local swimming pool, where you'll learn safety, rescue and first aid skills.
If you're on the lookout for student healthcare jobs, check out the apprenticeships on offer on our jobs board.
What medicine and healthcare qualifications are available?
To keep standards high, it’s a requirement for most people working in medicine and healthcare to have carefully regulated qualifications and to keep on training throughout their careers.
If you train as a doctor, nurse or any kind or as a treatment specialist, you will receive a qualification that meet the standards set by the organisation that regulates what you do.
For example, doctors are registered to the General Medical Council and dentists are registered through the General Dental Council.
Most people continue to study and gain new qualifications as they work.
Pharmacy assistants, technicians and carers can study towards NVQs, BTECs or diplomas in their field.
Did you know these medicine and healthcare facts?
The earliest known doctor is Hesy-Ra, who worked for the ancient Egyptian King Djoser in the 27th Century BCE.
The only part of the body that has no blood supply is the cornea in the eye. It takes in oxygen directly from the air.
By some measures, the role of anaesthetist (someone who gives patients anaesthetics before surgery) is among the best in the world!
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