Studying Whilst Working in the NHS

8 Minutes

One of the many benefits of working for the NHS is the ability to study while gaining experience in a healthcare setting. Yet, you might feel concerned that you may struggle to balance the two as an international doctor, especially as you will want to excel at an exam and successfully care for patients.

Support is available in many forms to help you pass exams with flying colours and flourish in a role. Many people complete extensive studies while working in various positions in the NHS, so there is no reason you cannot as well. Read this informative guide to studying while working in the NHS.

Stay Organised

Good organisation skills are essential when balancing studying with working in the NHS. Of course, there is more to organisational skills than packing a healthy lunch the night before or laying out clothing before bed.

It relates to having a firm understanding of your commitments for the month ahead, scheduling time for cramming textbooks, and identifying the best times to gain much-needed medical experience to expand your skills.

For instance, it might help to create a schedule to cover every topic that might arise on a postgraduate or Royal College exam, including the areas you know and dislike. It will boost your knowledge and confidence, support your NHS role, and make you a better doctor in the long term.

Also, use a paper or smartphone calendar to note down your working hours, study slots, and any events or social outings you have planned to avoid schedule conflicts. It will allow you to balance your education with an NHS role and a healthy social life, which may lower your stress levels and protect your mental health. Often you will be able to request time away from your role for studying and taking exams, and this will be put into your working hours and rota.

Take Study Leave

Junior doctors and consultants in the UK are eligible for postgraduate study leave to expand their knowledge, skills, or qualifications.

Doctors in training are entitled to 30 days of study leave, and a foundation doctor (Year 1) can receive 15 days. During study leave, you can embark on formal learning inside or outside your workplace to improve your knowledge and skills to meet the curriculum’s standards and your professional goals. Therefore, you can take time away from your role to study for a course or programme, take exams, perform research, or attend a conference with an educational angle.

At present, consultants are contractually allowed to take 30 days of study or professional leave within a three-year period, which includes pay and expenses.

Study leave isn’t restricted to completing courses, as it can include:

  • Research
  • Visiting clinics
  • Attending professional conferences
  • Teaching
  • Taking exams

If in doubt, review your employment contract for more information on what study leave you are entitled to and what qualifies.

Understand the Study Leave and Funding Process

Accessing a study budget is now easier and more transparent for trainees. Rather than struggling with the financial burden of expanding your skills and achieving your career goals, the NHS can cover the cost of educational courses and activities that directly support their curriculum.

However, you must follow a strict process to secure study leave and funding. For example, you must start by discussing your study leave plans with your educational supervisor or training programme director, and then confirm the study leave dates with a rota co-ordinator.

You must submit a study leave application to an Educational Supervisor, confirming you have received approval from your department. If approved, you are free to take the course on the confirmed dates and submit an expense claim to your NHS trust, but you must provide receipts and proof of attendance. The money will then be reimbursed via the monthly payroll.

Bear in mind, study leave funding is only available for courses or activities that support the curriculum or to help you prepare for a postgraduate exam. It is also an option for a discretionary course that will provide the wider system with value, this will be more subject to approval from your managers.

The funding isn’t available for postgraduate exam fees, Royal College membership, or Eportfolio fees.

How to Craft an Effective Study Schedule

How to Make Time for Studying

An NHS role might be demanding, but it is imperative to give yourself plenty of time to study for upcoming exams to ensure you pass on your first attempt. Squeezing studying between 12-hour shifts might seem a difficult challenge, but it is possible.

For example, you could listen to a textbook or medical videos/podcasts as you commute to and from work. You could also view each day as an opportunity to gain more experience and learn from senior doctors, nurses, or consultants. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and listen to stories to learn from others’ knowledge and experiences.

Use Dependable Study Resources

In addition to reading textbooks, you can access the NHS’s free online training resources for healthcare. The e-learning platform provides access to a wide variety of programmes for many subjects, such as acute medicine. You can also remain updated on the latest clinical research by reading studies published in world-leading medical journals, such as The Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Form a Study Group

It might also help to find a support network to rely on during this stage in your career, such as forming a study group with others preparing for the same exam(s). It will allow you to learn from each other, receive emotional support when needed, and seek advice on how to manage an NHS career with training.


Balancing an NHS career with studying might not always feel easy due to the busy nature of a hospital and an exam’s standards. However, you can trust it will be worth the hard work and effort once you enter your dream role in the UK.

As you have read, the NHS is designed to support its employees from the UK and abroad, as it provides flexible working hours, shadowing opportunities, and study leave to help build on your strengths and banish weaknesses.

Also, the more clinical experience you gain, the more you will understand when studying for various exams. If you view each working day as an opportunity to learn, develop a support network, and set time aside for studying regularly, there is no ceiling for your NHS career.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more about working in the NHS from support and guidance through to all of the latest NHS Jobs.