What skills and attributes are needed to become a doctor?

What skills and attributes are needed to become a doctor?

Many people aspire to the noble cause of this well regarded, meaningful career. Medicine opens the door to a rewarding, highly remunerated career. Once qualified there are a huge range of careers open to you such as working with children as a pediatrician, treating patients with mental health problems as a psychiatrist or performing operations as a surgeon.

But do you have what it takes to work in medicine? What skills do you need to be a doctor? This article looks at the academic and personal attributes required.


To qualify as a medical doctor, the minimum academic requirements are as follows:

  • Five GCSEs at grades A or A*/ 7-9 or equivalent. These must include English, maths and science.

  • 4 A levels- three at grades AAA or AAB including biology, chemistry, maths and or physics plus another academic subject.

  • A medical degree from an approved institution- this course takes five years but may be completed in four if this is your second undergraduate degree.

Getting in to medical school

In addition to the qualifications above, you need to demonstrate your commitment and that you have the right personal as well as academic skills. These are assessed by way of an interview, clinical aptitude test (UKCAT/BMAT) and completion of a range of extra-curricular activities.

Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)

This is used to assess your personal qualities such as cultural sensitivity, maturity, teamwork, empathy, reliability and communication skills. See here for further details.

Some universities give more weighting than others to the UKAT score and personal statement than to academic results. Equally, each university will have a quota for overseas students or RUK (rest of the UK applying to a Scottish university for example).

Also, each university will have its own teaching style- some may offer a theory-based curriculum whilst others may be more practical oriented. Do make sure you research the programs on offer to select the best one for you.

Post graduate training

There are two years of foundation training, followed by three to seven years of specialist training, depending upon the route that you have chosen.

You must also pass a DBS Check.

Personal attributes

Core skills required include clear communication skills, team working, management and leadership. Also, you may have to connect emotionally with patients who need to provide intimate details of their health or make life and death decisions on the spot. The ability to empathize with patients and their families and show sensitivity is of paramount importance. Effective time management skills whilst being adaptable and flexible where required are also essential. Medicine is a continually evolving field- so a commitment to lifelong learning is crucial. Finally, patients don’t stop being ill at 5pm- be prepared to work on after the end of your shift if necessary, even if your own social life is affected.

In short, getting in to medical school is not for the faint hearted but it offers a rewarding career to those with the necessary skills and aptitudes to succeed in this competitive field.