Toolkit for doctors new to the UK

Doctors’ titles explained

Location: UK International
Audience: International doctors All doctors
Updated: Friday 28 June 2024
Topics: International doctors

All medical doctors start as medical students and typically continue training until they become a consultant, GP (general practitioner) or SAS (specialist, associate specialist and specialty) doctor.

All doctors practicing medicine in the UK are required to follow the GMC’s good medical practice guidance and be subject to the GMC fitness to practice actions.

The following is an overview of medical students and different types of doctors and their ranks. 

Doctors who perform surgery may, due to historical reasons, use the titles 'Mr', 'Mrs', 'Miss' or 'Ms' instead. A doctor that is a university professor may also use the title ‘Professor’ instead of 'Dr'.


Medical student

Medical students typically undertake a five-year course of study for undergraduate or a four-year postgraduate course to become a doctor. This usually includes two years studying basic medical sciences, followed by three years of more clinical training during which they work in hospital wards under the supervision of consultants.


Junior doctor

There may be times when I am the most senior doctor on a ward in my specialty, but I am still training, and will be for several years.
Dr Ellen McCourt, junior doctor

Junior doctors are qualified doctors in clinical training.

They have completed a medical degree and can have up to nine years' of working experience as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty, or up to five years working and gaining experience to become a general practitioner (GP).

All junior doctors work under the supervisor of a senior doctor.

Common titles for junior doctors Descriptions
FY1 Foundation year one junior doctor
FY2 Foundation year two junior doctor
ST Specialty trainee in a hospital specialty - includes StR (specialty registrar) or have a number signifying the amount of years spent in training, eg ST4 psychiatry
SpR Specialty registrar in a hospital specialty
GPST Specialty registrar in general practice
SHO Senior house officer


Consultants are senior doctors that have completed full medical training in a specialised area of medicine and are listed on the GMC’s specialist register. They have clinical responsibilities and administrative responsibilities in managing SAS and junior doctors.

They usually work in hospitals or community settings.

After graduating from medical school, it takes around seven to ten years to become a consultant.

Consultants are the most senior grade of hospital doctors and are responsible for leading a team. Every patient who is admitted to hospital will have a named consultant.
Dr Paul Flynn, consultant

Specialist doctors

SAS doctors (specialist, associate specialist and specialty doctors) are experienced and senior doctors in permanent posts. They have at least four years of full-time postgraduate training, two of which have been in their relevant specialty.

SAS doctors work in hospitals and have a very ‘hands on’ role with a lot of patient contact.

There are SAS doctors in every hospital specialty and also in community hospitals (eg psychiatry and paediatrics). Some hold jobs in both the hospital and the community (eg gynaecology and sexual health).

Some SAS doctors also work part-time as GPs. SAS doctors therefore work across primary, community and hospital care.

Many SAS doctors have made a positive choice to step into a SAS position from a traditional consultant training pathway. This could be for reasons such as geographical stability and the chance to work regular hours in a chosen specialty. It often provides a better work-life balance.

There are routes, through gaining CESR (certificate of eligibility for specialist registration) or applying for a
training post, for SAS doctors to become consultants if they want to. 


General practitioner

GPs have overall responsibility for the management of patient care outside of hospitals. This includes the diagnosis and treatment of health problems and the referral of patients for specialist treatment where necessary.

Rather than having a specific specialist area, GPs can diagnose many illnesses or ailments, and determine whether a patient needs to see a doctor with more specialist training. They are also increasingly responsible for the management and monitoring of complex chronic illnesses.

Some GPs have an extended role (GP with Extended Role) which supplements their role as a generalist to provide an extra area of specialist knowledge.


Academic doctor

Academic or clinical academic doctors often work in a combination of teaching, research, and specialist clinical care. They undertake research in order to develop the science of medicine and can be any grade of doctor from a foundation year junior doctor to a consultant, GP or SAS doctor.

Common job titles for academic doctors are (from junior to senior):

  • ACF – academic clinical fellow
  • CL – clinical lecturer
  • CRF – clinical research fellow
  • CSL – senior clinical lecturer
  • reader/associate professor
  • prof – professor.


Other common titles

Locum doctor

A locum doctor is a fully qualified doctor who is temporarily covering a position. For example, if a doctor is on sick leave or there is large workload in a GP surgery or hospital ward that requires the support of a temporary doctor.

All doctors, other than a foundation year one doctors, can work as locum doctors. Locum doctors can therefore be foundation year two junior doctors, junior doctors in speciality training, SAS doctors, GPs or consultants working in hospital.

All locum doctors are fully registered with, and regulated by, the GMC.


Provide anaesthetics (drugs which cause loss of sensation) to patients before, during and after surgery and treat chronic pain.

Note: Anaesthesia Associates are not doctors.

Emergency medicine doctor

Assess, treat, admit, or discharge patients that seek urgent medical attention at any time of day or night. This is a generalist hospital role that specialises in resuscitation.

Forensic physician

The role of a forensic physician is varied – from providing medical care and assessing detainees in police custody to attending scenes of death and providing interpretation of their findings to the police and courts.


Specialist in the care of the female reproductive system (the vagina, uterus and ovaries).


Specialists in pregnancy, childbirth and the immediate after-birth period.

Occupational physician

Diagnosis, management and prevention of disease due to, or made worse by, workplace factors.


The medical and surgical care of the eyes and in the prevention of eye disease and injury.


Specialists in the medical management of conditions affecting babies, children and young people.


A physician is a general term for someone who practices medicine, they will usually have a specialist area.

Physicians include, for example:

  • cardiologists – heart disease
  • dermatologists – skin disease
  • endocrinologists – diseases related to hormones, this is a sub-specialty
  • gastroenterologists – diseases of the intestines, liver and biliary tract and pancreas
  • geriatricians – illnesses of older people
  • haematologists – disorders of the blood and bone marrow
  • neurologists – diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with disorders of the nervous system
  • oncologists – treatment of cancer
  • renal physicians – treatment of all forms of kidney disease
  • respiratory physicians – treatment of organs of the body that help you to breathe
  • rheumatologists – treatment of conditions affecting joints, bones, soft tissues and muscles.

Note: Physician Associates are not doctors.


Specialists in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders.


Specialist in the medical use of imaging to diagnose and treat disease seen within the body.

Sport and exercise medicine

Management of medical conditions and injury in those who participate in physical activity.


A specialist in surgery, which is a broad category of invasive medical treatment that involves operating on
the body.

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