Medical training pathway

The training required to become a doctor can be different for everyone. We've mapped out the medical training pathway to help guide you through the process.

Location: England
Audience: Medical students
Updated: Monday 8 November 2021
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The medical training you undertake on your journey to becoming a doctor can be overwhelming. It can take up to six years to be a qualified doctor, depending on the medical specialty you choose.

We have mapped out the medical training pathway to give you a step-by-step guide of what to expect.


Undergraduate medical training

The first step for anyone wanting to pursue a career as a doctor is to study medicine at undergraduate level or via a graduate medical course. Normally this will take four to six years of study.

Following graduation from medical school, students progress onto postgraduate training, via the foundation programme and higher specialist training. During this time they are known as junior doctors.

Read our guidance on how to become a doctor for more information.


The foundation programme - postgraduate medical training

All medical graduates must undertake and complete an integrated two year programme of general training, in order to practice as a doctor in the UK.

The foundation programme consists of foundation year one (FY1) and foundation year two (FY2). The programme acts as a bridge between undergraduate medical training and specialty and general practice training. It is designed to provide trainees with defined practical skills and competencies, and sound knowledge of how to manage acutely ill patients.

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Specialty and general practice training - postgraduate medical training

On successful completion of the foundation programme, doctors continue training in either a specialist area of medicine or in general practice.

There are around 60 different specialties to choose from and the area of medicine doctors choose will determine the length of training required before becoming a fully qualified doctor.

Our Specialty explorer tool can help you find medical specialties that match your preferences.  

Specialty training can be delivered in the following ways:

Run-through training programmes

These last from approximately three years for general practice and five to seven years in other specialties.

Core and higher specialty training programmes

Core training lasts two to three years, depending on the specialty. This is followed by an open competition to enter a higher specialty training post. It is important to note that the application following core training is competitive and does not guarantee a specialty training post.

ACCS (Acute Care Common Stem)

A three-year training programme that normally follows F2. It is the only core training programme for trainees wishing to enter higher specialty training in EM (emergency medicine), and is an alternative core training programme for trainees wishing to enter higher specialty training in GIM (General Internal Medicine), AIM (Acute Internal Medicine) or Anaesthesia.

For more information on specialty training read Health Education England's guidance on specialty training. 

On successful completion of a run-through or higher specialty training programme, doctors are awarded a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) which allows them entry onto the GMC specialist or general practice register.


Flexible training

Doctors in training have the option to undertake flexible training or LTFT (less than full-time training).


Other training options

There are also stand-alone, but educationally equivalent, training posts which are not part of run-through training programmes. As these are educationally approved posts, they may contribute to a CCT.

These posts include Fixed-Term Specialty Training Appointments (FTSTAs) and Locum Appointments for Training (LAT).

Doctors who choose not to become consultants, or are unable to do so, for instance because their qualifications, training, skills and experience may not be recognised under the UK specialty training system, are called SAS doctors (staff grade, specialty doctors and associate specialists). 


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