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Working in the military as a doctor

Embarking on a career as a military doctor in the UK presents a fulfilling opportunity. Many physicians, weary of the routine of NHS medicine, find a fresh perspective by transitioning to army healthcare. Alternatively, some enter medical school with the intention of serving in the military, which offers reimbursement for educational expenses – highlighting the advantage of making an early decision on this. For prospective students and junior doctors contemplating this path, this blog post aims to outline the necessary steps to become a doctor within the UK military.


Each 'stem' of the military needs its own health services

1. Royal Navy

The Royal Navy Medical Service, also known as Navy Healthcare, provides comprehensive healthcare to ships, submarines, and Royal Marine personnel at sea and on land.


The Royal Navy provides cadetships for medical and dental students:

  • Medical Officer Cadet: Tuition paid for your final three years at a UK medical school (not including your intercalation year) + a salary of at least £60,505 once qualified.

  • Dental Officer Cadet: Final three years’ fees paid for (not including any intercalation year) + £66,900 salary.


Specialist doctors are sought after, particularly in key disciplines like surgery, medicine, anaesthetics, and orthopaedic surgery, with opportunities for further specialization in areas such as submarine, diving, and aviation medicine. There are also opportunities for research at the Institute of Naval Medicine and elsewhere.


As well as basic pay, you will be offered extra money for special skills and daily allowances for being at sea after a certain period. You will also be offered a pension scheme, six weeks annual leave on full pay, and free medical and dental care.

2. Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force Medical Service involves aviation medicine, training, and support to RAF personnel and the wider armed forces. Medical Officers in the Royal Air Force can go on aeromedical evacuations, providing vital assistance on search and rescue missions or emergency relief flights worldwide.


Bursary:

  • £3000 bursary for Year 2 and 3 of the medicine course (or Year 1 and 2 in 4-year graduate courses).

  • Commitment: The Bursar must join the University Air Squadron affiliated to their university (training pay is paid for University Air Squadron attendance, along with a Training Bounty) and apply for an upgrade to a Cadetship for their last 2 years of medical school.

Cadetship:

  • For the final 2 years of the Medicine course, you can apply for a cadetship which is worth around £18000 a year + potential financial aid towards your tuition fees.

  • Commitment: Must join the University Air Squadron affiliated to their university and subsequently enter the Royal Air Force, complete a 12-week Specialist Officers Initial Training Course with a minimum Return of Service of 6 years from full registration with the General Medical Council.

3. Army

The Army Medical Service is a modern, inclusive, operationally proven organisation that is aligned totally with the National Health Service. It is made up of four Corps (The Royal Army Medical Corps, The Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Royal Army Dental Corps and The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps) of Regular and Reserve personnel delivering the very best patient care wherever the British Army can be found.


The Royal Army Medical Corps commissions doctors for primary (General Practice) or secondary (hospital) care to enhance and sustain the operational effectiveness of the Army. Your duties would include practicing medicine and undertaking some non-medical officer duties. If your unit deploys on exercise or operations, you will go with them.


The Territorial Army Medical Service is organised into 10 independent field hospitals, 2 medical regiments and 6 medical squadrons, located throughout the UK. Field hospitals are deployed at short notice to operate in the field. Medical regiments consist of medical squadrons which are small, highly mobile medical units that can respond rapidly. There are also 2 National Units that recruit across the UK and provide a field hospital, an evacuation regiment, and specialist teams. Although as a medical specialist you will not be expected to fight on the front line, you will be trained in military procedures. This is so that you can carry out your work in a combat environment, defending yourself or your patients if necessary.


The UK Army can pay for some of your medical school fees:

  • UK armed forces offer medical students a generous bursary of £75,000 in total = £10,000 for the final 3 years of medical school which means it can cover up to 60% of your total medical school tuition if taken full advantage of + £45,000 lump sum on successful completion of the Professionally Qualified Officer (PQO) course at Sandhurst - a course for new British Army Officers who hold professional qualifications, such as doctors, vets, lawyers, dentists, nurses, physiotherapists and chaplains. This course consists of on-field and physical training, drills, and weapons training as well as classroom-based teaching to prepare you for working as an army doctor.

  • Following the PQO course, you will enter phase 2 training which will cover trauma and battlefield-related medicine. This will qualify you as a General Duties Medical Officer (GDMO) where you will work mostly in a UK-based military GP but can be deployed around the world for pre-hospital emergency care at short notice. This whole process will take 3 years after FY2 and following it, you can decide on specialising just as you would post FY2 in normal medicine. This can be continued in the army in one of the specialties they offer or doctors can leave to re-join the NHS.

  • Commitment: Serve in the army for at least 4 years as a doctor once you qualify, including training.


You must:

  • Apply for a Medical Bursary while you are still at university, before the end of January.

  • You should apply no later than your second year to qualify for the full amount.

  • You must pass the Army Officer Selection Board for professionally qualified officers and a specialist selection board.

Note: The bursaries are ALSO available for Dentistry (up to £75,000), Veterinary Medicine (up to £60,000), Pharmacy (up to £51,000) and Nursing (adult and mental health) (up to £42,000).

If you decide to join the army as a doctor you can join any time after completing the foundation programme (see below).


Foundation years and postgraduate training


After graduating with a medical degree, aspiring military doctors are required to complete a two-year Foundation Training programme. Applicants who are military cadets at a UK medical school do not need to apply via the national application process on Oriel for their training programme. Military cadets are placed into selected foundation programmes which are managed separately by the Defence Postgraduate Medical Deanery (DPMD). The DPMD forms part of the Joint Medical Command and is based at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield. During F1 & 2 you will be posted to a Joint Hospital Group, this could be any one of Frimley Park, Northallerton, Portsmouth, Plymouth, or the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. You will be able to submit a preference for which hospital you would prefer to train at, but you are not guaranteed to get your first choice.


If you decide to join any of the military stems as a direct entrant (post-foundation programme) then you will miss out on the financial incentives that you would have if you joined as a medical student, but will still be provided with the necessary training and a competitive salary. However, there are fewer specialty training numbers available in the Defence Postgraduate Medical Deanery than in other standard NHS deaneries. If you don’t get a number, you can spend your time as a GDMO (~ which takes 3 years post-F2) until you get your job, but it may not be in the specialty you want.


Doctors often really enjoy these three years in the military and can still spend it building their CV and deciding on what they would like to specialise in whilst earning a very decent salary and maintaining a very good work-life balance. However, the major drawback can be spending 3 years in a 'non-training' job (i.e. you're not a foundation trainee nor a specialty trainee). Doctors often report that when they are in the UK as a GDMO, they work 4.5 days a week with 08.00-16.30 hours and no weekends or nights. As a GDMO they may get an abrupt call to be deployed abroad where they are ‘on call’ most of the time but still don’t feel very busy. In GDMO you can volunteer to be posted abroad, and you can volunteer for deployments abroad.


Competition for specialty training is higher in the forces and always has been. But you’re well looked after.

If you’ve got a bit of a sense of adventure, don’t mind where you are, where you work, are open to the opportunities that are made available (during your GDMO years you can do all sorts), like sport, would like to make fitness a big part of your life, and like the respect that comes with being an army officer and company commander, then the military would serve you well.


You can apply for specialty training programmes through the standard national route (whereby you will work within the NHS) but you must fulfil Royal College requirements to be awarded the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training to re-join the military.


You can browse regular and reservist roles here:

Joining the military involves a thorough application process, including medical examinations, fitness assessments, and interviews.


Continuing professional development


As a military doctor, your commitment to learning and professional development doesn't end with officer training. The military encourages continuous learning and provides opportunities for further education and specialisation. This might include advanced medical courses, leadership training, and opportunities to gain expertise in fields such as trauma medicine or aviation medicine.


Becoming a military doctor in the UK is a challenging yet highly rewarding journey that combines the best of medical expertise with a commitment to national service. Aspiring medical professionals can build a successful career in the armed forces while making a significant impact on the health and well-being of their fellow service members. If you are passionate about medicine, leadership, and serving your country, a career as a military doctor could be the fulfilling and honorable path you've been searching for.

Extra resources:



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1 Comment


Guest
Mar 05

Hi Jess, great article. How does speciality training work for those who have finished their years as a GDMO? Do they face the same application process as non-military medics or do they get privilege for posts the the JDF hospitals? Thanks.

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