What Does A Medical Career Involve?

Last updated: 05/01/24

A doctor is someone who is qualified to treat people who are ill or injured. If a doctor is a qualified surgeon, they are able to operate on those who are ill or injured. Doctors can choose to specialise in different fields.

For example, a doctor can specialise in the care of the elderly, geriatrics, or choose to focus on the care of children, paediatrics. Doctors can choose to become general practitioners or general surgeons, which means they are respectively equipped to deal with a wide range of medical and surgical issues.

Doctors face the challenge of trying to heal people and keep them as healthy as possible on a daily basis. They do this by using their communication skills to understand what the problem is and using their scientific knowledge to know how best to fix it. Doctors have some of the most diverse and challenging careers available.

Read on to find out about:

Types of doctors

General Practitioners (GPs)

General Practitioners are doctors who have trained in the medical specialty of generalism and work in the community to care for patients of all ages and backgrounds. They are faced with the formidable task of being the frontline of healthcare by acting as the first point of contact in a patient’s care.

According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Australian patients see GPs more than any other health professionals. GPs diagnose and treat a great deal of patients independently and will sometimes refer them on to appropriate specialist doctors in hospitals for further medical opinions, advice, and treatment.


Specialists are medical doctors who have completed advanced clinical training in a specialty. There are a diverse range of areas that you can specialise in, with many sub-specialities within them. For example, you could train to become an obstetrician and then become a sub-specialist in gestational diabetes in high-risk pregnancies.

Other medical careers

If you don't want to become a GP or specialist, you could:

  • Choose not to undertake a fellowship specialist training (following residency) and choose to work as a non-vocational career medical officer.
  • Pursue a career in academia, which primarily involves doing research and teaching other students and medical professionals. You can also do research outside the academic setting. For example, you could work for a pharmaceutical company.
  • Use your medical degree as a starting point for further study. For example, progressing to a dental degree and becoming a maxillofacial surgeon, for which both a medical and dental degree is required.

The options at the end of a medical degree are vast and diverse, and thus the day-to-day life of a doctor greatly varies. You will see and hear more about various career options during your time at medical school and as a junior doctor, and will have numerous opportunities to consider what type of doctor you would like to become.

Career pathway

For those who take the usual route to become a GP or specialist, you will go through the following education and training:

Medical school

A student’s time in medical school usually lasts 4–6 years, depending on the nature of entry (direct or graduate), and the medical school. This involves a heavy commitment in terms of time, effort, and finance. The early pre-clinical years equip you with basic medical and scientific knowledge, while the later clinical years are more hands-on and spent in clinical settings.

Beyond medical school

After graduating from medical school, you can apply for provisional registration and undertake a year of training (as an intern in Australia and a house officer in New Zealand), after which you become eligible for general registration. You will then typically spend another 1–2 years as a resident (Australia) or a house officer (New Zealand), then choose and apply for a specialty (there are over 60 specialties in Australia).

You will undergo 3–6 years of training and examinations as a GP registrar or a specialist registrar. Once you fulfill all the requirements, you will become elected to a fellowship. Your official training will finally be complete, but you're expected to continually upskill yourself and keep up-to-date with the latest advances in medicine.

The positives of being a doctor

  • Respect: Doctors are well respected among all professions.
  • Satisfaction: The use of your knowledge to directly help people and be responsible for their care.
  • Knowledge: Understanding the workings of the human body and how to manage the health of patients.
  • Salary: The potential to earn a reasonable salary.
  • Job security: Doctors will always be needed and can expect to have a reliable career.
  • Opportunities: Doctors can change specialities, work all around the country, and often work abroad.

The negatives of being a doctor

  • Exams: The stress of examinations, which can be non-stop until you're a consultant.
  • Stress: The responsibilities can be overwhelming, especially when there are lots of them, some of which can potentially involve life-threatening outcomes for your patients.
  • Workload: It's hard work, with long and unsociable hours.
  • Transfer: The requirement to move around to different hospitals during training.

Responsibilities of doctors

  • Professionalism: Doctors represent the medical profession and should act with professionalism in all aspects of their lives, not just around patients.
  • Uphold trust: Patients place their trust in doctors, and doctors must honour this by treating all patients with empathy and respect.
  • Teach: Doctors have a responsibility to pass their knowledge on to future generations of medical professionals so that medicine can continue to be practised safely, ethically, and professionally.
  • Maintain confidentiality: Patient confidentiality needs to be protected as a matter of priority.
  • Other responsibilities: Doctors have many responsibilities, and you can continue to learn about them in the Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia.

Would I make a good doctor?

Medicine is a wide-ranging field that requires a diverse skill set and huge knowledge base of its practitioners. Almost anyone can fit into a particular branch of medicine, no matter their background. However, there are characteristics common to all good doctors.

A good doctor is:

  • Empathetic: Understanding of someone else’s feelings and experiences, and putting yourself in their shoes to gain a better understanding of why they might feel that way.
  • Compassionate: The skill of being approachable and treating patients as human beings rather than solely as a symptom or collection of symptoms.
  • An effective communicator: The willingness to take time to listen and communicate honestly and effectively with patients, relatives, and other staff, while pitching at the appropriate level and putting everyone at ease.
'To my mind, having a care and concern for others is the highest of the human qualities'

– Fred Hollows, New Zealand-Australian eye surgeon and founder of The Fred Hollows Foundation, which has restored the sight of millions of people around the world.

Are you interested in attending a medical school in the UK instead of Australia or New Zealand? Check out Medify’s UK Medical School Admissions Guide.

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