We’ve all been to the doctor before but have you ever wondered what it actually takes to become one? Well, we’ve got your answers!
If you want to find out what skills make a great doctor, what you should study and the best and worst parts of the profession, then keep scrolling.
Let’s get started!
Emma has been working as a GP or General Practitioner since 2009 and possesses the answers to all of the doctor-related questions that we could think of.
A GP is usually your first stop when you’re seeking medical advice as a sick or injured patient. A GP is a kind of doctor who’s qualified in a wide range of medical practices so they’re able to prescribe medicine, write referrals and provide advice for almost any pain, cough or cold!
Emma’s days are relatively structured in the way that she’s usually spending her time helping out patients. However, her days vary depending on the patients and their circumstances.
“I consult with patients during the day, pretty much from 8am to 6pm. Some of these are telephone consults or video tele-health consults but most at the moment are still face-to-face consults,” she told us.
Studies and Experience
Emma actually began her university studies doing a Science degree at USYD. She didn’t know that Medicine was what she wanted to do until she realised how much she enjoyed the human biology subjects.
She began her Medicine degree at USYD while simultaneously completing Honours in Science. So after the 3 year undergraduate degree, she went on to complete another 6 years to graduate from Medicine.
Emma’s Medical School Journey
Emma gave us a rundown on how her medical degree was structured. Keep in mind, that this was a few years ago and has changed a little bit since but we’ll get to that later.
“To start, we did 3 years where we were basically just doing another Science degree, just lectures and tutorials so there was no clinical component. Then over the second 3 years we were allocated out to a hospital and your lectures were done at the hospital. In between your lectures you’d do rotations of various things like in cardiology or respiratory and you’d kind of learn stuff as you were walking around,” Emma said.
As the responsibilities of medical students grew, Emma said that she began spending her terms in different locations.
“I went down to Eden and did a GP term down there maybe for a month or two. I also did a travel term and I went to Samoa and was there for 2 months working in obstetrics which was pretty mind blowing,” Emma said.
You can take a look at USYD’s current international opportunities for Medical students here!
Medical students will also need to undergo an intern year to finalise their studies and hopefully score them a job position. Emma did her intern year at Royal North Shore Hospital and explained to us what the standard next steps were!
“Most people will then go on and do a residency and decide what they’d like to become. Usually it’ll be physician training or to be a surgeon — they’re the two main streams that people do.
“But the other options are like emergency medicine, psychiatry or rehab medicine. Most people usually become a registrar and then train in a particular field while some people go on to do general practice,” she said.
After her intern year, Emma told us that she did a lot of part-time emergency medicine while her children were young and then decided on joining a general practice training program.
What made you want to work as a doctor?
“I wanted to have a job that I felt that I could be making a difference and helping people and I felt that being a doctor was the best way for me to achieve that,” Emma said.
While Emma told us that it’s a profession that requires a lot of responsibility, dedication and resilience, helping patients and getting to know their individual stories has always been a massive motivating factor.
What is a Doctor?
A doctor, in this case a GP, is a qualified medical professional that consults with patients, treats injuries, prescribes medicine, writes referrals and assesses mental health — just to name a few!
Paediatricians, specialists, gynaecologists, cardiologists, psychiatrists, radiologists and surgeons are also types of doctors. As you can see, being a ‘doctor’ can mean a lot of different things — it’s a diverse but nuanced profession that covers so many different medical branches!
GPs typically treat more general conditions, hence the name. As a GP, you’ll learn a bit about everything and you’ll need to be qualified to know the correct next step for patients — whether that’s referral to further help or specialist treatment.
Roles and Responsibilities
As we mentioned earlier, Emma’s day will generally be full of consultations from morning to evening. She’ll often have appointments with her usual patients and a few spots open for people who are experiencing problems on the day.
Emma told us, “It’s actually quite nice to mix it up with the chronic things as well as the more acute things that I deal with. In the past, the acute issues might be colds, sore throats, sore ears or injuries. I also see a lot of mental health consults.”
A normal day for Emma would also involve undertaking chronic disease management. An example that Emma gave us was when she monitors patients with diabetes.
“I look after people with chronic disease and keep on top of the things that they need to do. For diabetes, people need to do blood tests every 6 months or we need to make sure they’re having their feet checked and their eyes checked,” she said.
Emma told us that she’ll also see patients with other issues like chest pains or difficulty breathing and she’ll often get the nurses to help with doing ECGs.
Which industries can this career be found in?
Doctors are generally positioned within the healthcare industry and sometimes in research as well.
Some of the sectors that make up healthcare include:
- Ambulatory services
- Medical Practitioners — this includes professions like chiropractors, counsellors, dermatologists, nutritionists, optometrists, physical therapy, etc.
Characteristics and Qualities
According to JobOutlook, the top skills needed to become a doctor include but are not limited to:
- Active listening
- Reading comprehension
- Judgment and decision making
- Critical thinking
- Scientific skills
- Problem solving
- Oral expression
While no profession can be secured simply by acquiring the skills, if you’re naturally an empathic person who can listen and has great thinking skills then you may be well on your way.
Otherwise, you don’t have to stress if you don’t think you possess all of them. They are all skills that you can improve through experience, study and training!
What skills do you develop throughout your career?
We put the question to Emma and as a practicing doctor, she narrowed it down for us.
“I think compassion is a top skill — you also need to pay attention to detail. I think you just have to be forever double checking and triple checking because you don’t want to miss anything and things do get missed so you just always have to be checking what you’re doing and what others are doing to make sure stuff happens,” Emma noted.
She also mentioned the importance of organisation, having a great memory and the ability to problem solve.
Steps to Becoming a Doctor
What should you study?
Now we’re going to take you through an example of a pathway that is currently available to aspiring doctors. Graduating from Medicine is going to take a lot of years studying, training and gathering working experience, but if you’re keen, then we have every hope that you’ll get there.
However don’t worry if you’re not 100% sure if you want to be a doctor — Emma is living proof that you don’t have to instantly know what you want to do as soon as you get to uni.
We’re going to give you an example of what the process is like at USYD. Here are the steps:
#1: Graduate Year 12 (with the prerequisite subjects)
There are technically 2 options here. The first is the very competitive route straight into the Doctor of Medicine program and the other involves the completion of a Bachelor’s degree before you’re eligible to apply to study Medicine.
Going straight from Year 12 into a Doctor of Medicine is available to only 30 domestic students who have achieved an ATAR of 99.95. So, if that doesn’t seem like a viable option for you, don’t worry, most potential Medical students will take the second route.
To get into Law, Science, Economics, Commerce, Engineering and most health programs at USYD, you’ll need to receive a Band 4 in Advanced Mathematics.
#2: Complete a Bachelor’s degree
At USYD, you can graduate from a Bachelor’s degree in any undergraduate discipline before applying to study Medicine!
You’ll need a GPA of at least 65 to study Medicine later on.
So, this would be a great chance for you to take a diverse range of subjects to see if Medicine would be right for you! You might want to look into taking science and health-related subjects before you make your choice.
#3: Apply for entry by sitting the GAMSAT
Once you complete your undergraduate degree (in any discipline), you’re eligible to sit the GAMSAT which is an exam used to see whether you meet the requirements to study Medicine.
The GAMSAT or the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test is taken in 3 components and you’ll need a minimum score of 50. This is likely to be a test that you’ll have to study for in your own time, especially if you haven’t taken many medical subjects in undergrad.
If you meet the requirements of the GAMSAT, you’ll then need to undergo an interview with USYD.
#4: Study Medicine!
Once you’ve completed the GAMSAT and your interview, you’ll soon be told if you made it into the course. As you can see it’s a very long process but worth it if becoming a doctor is what you’d like to do!
#5: Do an Internship
To become a practicing doctor once you graduate, you’ll have to complete a one-year internship. This is something that medical students organise for themselves through an application process.
Emma told us that she completed her intern year at the Royal North Shore hospital.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll be required to gain medical accreditation, complete a few more years of training and then, kablam, you’re a doctor!
How long does it take to become a Doctor?
It’s a long process. Overall, you’re looking at a minimum of 10 years studying. Possibly 5 years more if you’re wanting to become a specialist.
We asked Emma if there were any particular programs or software that she uses as a doctor.
“There’s a lot of IT stuff these days but it’s not very complicated. At our practice, it is very computer-based. All our notes are on the computer but there aren’t too many in general practice so you’ll get used to them,” she said.
“There are a lot of ways we use technology to help us remind patients about tests and remind us of things that need to be done. There are a lot of discussions about how to optimally do these things and technology is usually involved,” Emma added.
She concluded with telling us that if you’re able to spell and type, you’ll be okay!
What will this career look like in the future?
Artificial Intelligence in clinical environments is definitely on the rise. In fact, some reports speculate that AI will soon have the capability to replace some of the tasks that doctors perform to diagnose and treat illnesses.
However, while AI is definitely growing and finding its way into a lot of healthcare professions, the care and support given by GPs probably won’t be able to be replicated by robotics in the near future.
How in-demand is this career?
According to the Department of Health, there is specific demand for GPs and specialists in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia. You can search for rural jobs through a Rural Workforce Agency!
Doctors will always be needed so you can expect to find some great positions once you graduate.
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
We put the question to Emma who told us:
“Yes. In medicine you can take any path that you want. There are so many different ways to grow, new courses you can do, you can branch out, change, all sorts of things.
“For General Practice, you could specialise in women’s health, you can specialise in doing skin checks for people, you could specialise in paediatrics. There’s all manner of things that you can go into,” Emma confirmed.
Once you graduate from Medicine, you could also go into administration or research where you’re able specialise in whatever field you want.
Additionally, Emma told us that it’s essential for GPs to continue extending their knowledge and experience.
“Even if you don’t want to, you have to keep growing to maintain your ability to practice. You have to have a certain number of education points that ensures you are continuing to learn throughout your working career,” she added.
According to Job Outlook, GPs have a ‘very high skill’ level and make an average of $127,000+ a year.
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$127,000+||Strong over the next 5 years||Very high skill|
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
Emma told us, “I enjoy helping people. I actually really enjoy the interactions with my patients. I love finding out about people, their stories, their life, I love seeing people grow. I love these interactions and getting to know not just the person but their children, their grandparents, their whole family. I enjoy that very much.”
What do you enjoy least about this job?
“I don’t really enjoy the long hours. I didn’t think General Practice would be quite as long hours, but it seems to be.” Emma said.
In fact, according to JobOutlook, the average GP will work approximately 46 hours a week!
Emma also told us about the huge responsibility that doctors have to take on, “If you do make mistakes, then people may well suffer from them and that’s really hard and I don’t enjoy that because you’re trying to make people better but there’s always the chance of those things happening.”
Advice for Aspiring Doctors
“I think you’ve got to find a job that you enjoy. Don’t just do it because you want to be a doctor. You sort of have to enjoy fixing things, nutting things out, being with people. There are some areas in medicine where you don’t have to interact with people but on the whole, you do. But, it’s wonderful and rewarding,” Emma told us.
She also told us that it’s good to be aware that the process and position can be pretty tough. Being able to help people is great but it also comes with a lot of serious responsibility.
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
Emma told us that there wasn’t anything in particular that she wished she had known before working as a doctor. However, she advised potential Medical students to try to understand how much time you’ll be committing to this career.
“I suppose you realise as you’re going along how long the process is for getting to the point where you think you’ll be finished — it almost never finishes. If you are training as a specialist, from starting your medical degree to finishing, it would be 15 years of study. It can be very long,” Emma said.
“It is pretty flexible. I mean I’m talking from a more GP point of view but I think in most areas it can be pretty flexible,” Emma explained.
Emma said that while it can be tricky taking time off for holidays, especially when you’re working with sick patients, the job itself can be rather flexible. A lot of professions have had to adapt to working from home and luckily, it’s been possible for doctors!
“You can work from home these days because you can do tele-health consulting but that’s a pretty new thing. You can do remote, you can consult with people who live remotely. You could also go and live remotely and be a GP,” Emma added.
What is the workplace culture like?
Emma told us that the workplace culture generally depends on where you’re working. She said that there can be a bit of a power structure going on with the older doctors and often it’s a little more difficult for women to make their way up.
“The culture is tough but it’s also very caring. A lot of people go into it because they do care about people so you should gravitate towards them. I think there are also people in the profession who could potentially cause the culture to be not nice but just try to avoid those people,” Emma advised.
Overall, Emma told us that at times it can feel like a pretty isolating profession. She said that despite seeing patients and working with other doctors, you can feel quite alone. Emma said that it’s important to ask for advice if you need it.
Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!