NHS Doctor Job Titles Explained

8 Minutes

As an IMG looking to move to the UK and work for the NHS, familiarising yourself with the va...

As an IMG looking to move to the UK and work for the NHS, familiarising yourself with the various doctor job titles is important. Not only should you know the role you’ll be starting at after moving, but you should also know the role you’ll strive towards. Often, that will be a consultant doctor in the long term.

Below, we have listed the most common doctor job titles in the NHS, explaining their duties and responsibilities.

Medical Student

All UK doctors start as medical students. Time as a medical student will mostly be spent getting to grips with and understanding basic medical sciences before delving into clinical training. That will include five-year undergraduate study OR a four-year postgraduate course. Upon completion, medical students can work as junior doctors.

Junior Doctor

Junior doctors are fully qualified doctors that are still in clinical training. Whilst the term ‘junior doctor’ isn’t an official job title, it is often used to encompass all doctors below consultant level. They can work at various levels, including:

  • FY1: Foundation Training Year 1
  • FY2: Foundation Training Year 2
  • ST1+: Speciality Training
  • CT1+: Core Level Training

During this time, junior doctors often establish their speciality and gain valuable experience working in a hospital as a doctor. Their responsibilities include both ward duties and on-call duties. For example, they might perform tasks like reporting tests, writing up discharges, and covering parts of a ward. They’ll rotate between hospitals and departments to gain experience in a variety of NHS medical settings.

ST3+ (Middle Grade) Doctor

Once completing ST1-2 or CT1-2, junior doctors can carry on their training with ST3+ roles. These are often known as middle-grade doctors, but still fall under the general title of "junior doctors". At this stage, they have gained enough experience to start higher speciality training. They also take on a lot more responsibility in their chosen speciality. The level ranges from ST3-8 depending on the chosen speciality.

There are non-training posts equal to this level: Senior Clinical Fellow or Trust Grade ST3+ are a couple of examples. These positions focus more on service and seeing patients although it is very common for them to include access to many of the same benefits of an ST3+ trainee such as clinical and educational supervisors.

Speciality Doctor

Speciality doctors are senior doctors who have completed four years of postgraduate training, with a minimum of two years of that being in their chosen speciality. Speciality doctors are equal to the ST3+ level, only it is a non-training post. Their responsibilities involve direct patient care, research, and professional development activities.

Specialist Doctor

A specialist doctor is a new grade introduced recently which takes on high levels of responsibility. They are very senior doctors who have specialised in a specific area, and they can use their expertise to work closely with patients, providing medical services for specialist treatments and acting as decision makers. On top of that, specialist doctors also train, teach, and manage other doctors. In fact, it carries many of the same responsibilities and similar starting salary as a consultant-level doctor. The main difference between a specialist doctor and a consultant is that specialists are not required to work at an independent practice level or be on the specialist register.

Becoming a specialist or specialty doctor when entering the UK is a popular choice for IMGs, as it’s a senior role with high pay without the independent practising required of a consultant. Many doctors choose to stay as specialist doctors throughout their careers, but there is also the route of CESR for becoming a consultant.


Consultants are the highest role of any hospital doctor. Having completed their full medical training, they work as senior doctors in their specialised area. It takes between six and eight years for doctors to become consultants after graduation.

Due to their high level and deep expertise, they deliver expert clinical care to patients. In addition, they are often responsible for leading a team within the hospital, ensuring that everyone comes together to deliver the best possible patient care.

Most IMGs don’t start as consultants when moving to the UK. However, there is the option of taking the CESR/CESR-CP route, which allows you to prove your speciality training and start at the level (as long as you meet the requirements).

General Practitioner 

General practitioners treat a wide range of common medical conditions in non-emergency situations. They also often work continuously with patients with acute and chronic illnesses.

Unlike many other roles on this list, general practitioners tend to work in local practices, with part of their responsibility being to refer patients to hospitals (when necessary). Every person in the country should be registered at a GP clinic and this will be the first medical contact in non-emergency situations (other than a pharmacist).

Locum Doctor

The NHS employs multiple locum doctors. A locum doctor’s purpose is to cover another doctor’s shift to ensure that the role is always filled. That might happen when a doctor is on maternity leave, sick leave, or when there is simply a greater need for doctors in the hospital or practice. In any of these situations, the surgery or hospital can employ a locum doctor for the set amount of time that they are needed.

Locum doctors can be of any level aside from FY1. That means you can become a locum doctor as a junior doctor, specialist doctor, consultant, or general practitioner.

The responsibilities of a locum doctor are very broad due to the nature of the role; they take on the duties of whichever doctor they are replacing during that time.

Academic Doctor

An NHS clinical academic doctor takes part in teaching, research, and patient treatment. Their focus is on the development of medical science. There are many different levels of an academic doctor, ranging from academic clinical fellow to professor.

What are NHS Specialities?

When you work for the NHS, you have the option to develop a speciality, particularly when you move from FY2 into an ST1+ position. Here are the ones you can choose to pursue:

  • Anaesthesia
  • Clinical Oncology
  • Clinical Radiology
  • Community Sexual and Reproductive Health
  • Emergency Medicine
  • General Practice
  • Intensive Care Medicine
  • Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Paediatrics
  • Pathology
  • Psychiatry
  • Public Health Doctor
  • Surgery

Which Path is Right for You?

When applying for an NHS role, you should have some kind of idea about which job title you want to go for. Many IMGs who have completed an internship overseas can start an ST1/CT1+ level role. For those with a postgraduate degree and speciality training experience, starting at a higher level like ST3+ or Speciality Doctor might be possible.

In terms of speciality, that really is up to you. For example, you might have already pursued speciality training overseas and know exactly which speciality you will be doing in the NHS and can start at the ST3+ level. Or, you might be fresh out of an internship and ready to try out different specialities during your time working in an NHS hospital in a non-training post.

What Are the Differences in Salary?

You might wonder how much you can expect to get paid depending on your job title in the NHS. Many of the more senior positions provide higher pay. Here are some of the salaries from the Junior doctors 2016 contract (these are basic salaries and don’t include enhancements which often add another 30% to total pay):

FY1: £29,384

FY2: £34,012

CT1-2: £40,257

ST1-2: £40,257

ST3+: £51,017

As you can see, you will earn more as you develop. Once you reach a level like a consultant, you can expect to earn a lot more, with NHS consultants earning an average of £82-£110K per year.

In Summary

Knowing the various NHS job titles is good practice for you as an IMG. Even if you only end up working as a couple of these titles, you’ll still need to familiarise yourself with your colleagues! Also, remember that the more senior roles – such as general practitioner, consultant, and specialist doctor – requires many years of training.

If you would like to know more about working in the NHS and keep up to date with all the latest job vacancies then contact us and we’ll be happy to help.