Is It Better To Be A Doctor In The US or UK

Last Updated on December 25, 2022

As a matter of fact, preparing for medical school can be fun and at the same time, quite tasking. However, there is really nothing like finally seeing your dreams come true; your dreams of becoming a doctor in this case. Moving on, how much do you know though, about whether it is better to be a doctor in the us or uk?

Many people are considering to become a doctor in the UK than the US. In fact, many people think it is better to study medicine in Canada than anywhere else. So I did some research and found out that there are a lot of conditions under which it would be better to be a doctor in the UK instead of the US.

On Infolearners, you will also discover more accurate information about Is It Better To Be A Doctor In The US or UK as well as information about us doctors vs uk doctors salary, can uk doctors work in usa, why do uk doctors earn so little, how to become a doctor in uk international student, are doctors rich in usa and many more.

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There is no way to answer this question as it is entirely subjective. The best country to live in is based on multiple factors including salary, culture, healthcare system and general lifestyle differences between the countries.

Here is a brief comparison between the countries:

US: paid more, less free time, more opportunities.

UK: paid less, less paperwork, more free time, long training.

The similarities between the UK and the American system are greater than the differences.

The training received by both systems is world-class, resulting in doctors that put the patient first and cutting-edge healthcare technology.

Both countries can also offer excellent quality of life, where if you are well off, a lavish lifestyle is entirely within reach.

Also Read: Is It Better To Be A Doctor In The US Or UK, surgical training uk vs us, american doctors working in uk, why do uk doctors earn so little, benefits of being a doctor in uk.

Is It Better To Be A Doctor In The US Or UK

Medical School

In the US, you have to do a 4-year undergraduate degree before applying to medical school.

The medical school itself is a four-year degree that is broken up into two years of core science classes followed by two years of clerkships (aka clinical rotations).

  1. First two years: Core science classes in the first two years break the body down into systems (e.g. cardiac, respiratory) helping them prepare for their clerkships. The classes are taught via a mixture of lectures and lab work.
  2. Third-year: Then, students spend their third year of medical school in a series of clinical rotations. Some schools allow students flexibility in choosing which clinicals they will pursue, while some schools dictate most of the placements, only allowing students to choose one or two additional subjects.
  3. Fourth-year: After students have completed the required clerkships in their third year, they often choose an elective to go on in their fourth years. This is where they self-organise a placement in a speciality that they are interested in going into.

UK medical schools do not require a degree to be taken beforehand. However, for those that are unable to get into medical school the first time around, there is still the option of taking a degree first and then applying for medical school later.

Doctors Salary In USA, Canada, UK, Germany and Thailand

The curriculum is similar to that of US medical schools except that it is stretched over 5 years.

  1. First two years: Mainly lectures and labs, covering the core sciences. Some schools have early patient exposure in the form of GP (family medicine) placements.
  2. Last three years: Three years of clinical placements, initially covering all the core specialities like cardiology and respiratory and then branching out into more sub-specialities like ophthalmology in later years.

The freedom that US medical schools give students in clinical rotations is not available in UK schools. US schools have to account for the fact that students will be deciding on a specialty as soon as they graduate, while UK medical schools understand that as FY1s (first-year doctors in the UK), they will have to go into a wide range of specialties.

This is because UK doctors don’t specialize until they have completed at least two years of being a junior doctor.

Because UK medicine is an undergraduate degree, students have the option of taking an iBSc (intercalated bachelor of science) at some point in their schooling.

An iBSc is a one-year degree that students can take to broaden their view of medicine. Some schools make it compulsory, while others make it optional. Subjects that can be chosen include pharmacology, biomedical engineering and business.

In their final year, students can also decide to go on an elective, which is typically in a developing country where the healthcare system is less structured, helping students experience how medicine is different across the world.



In the US, at the end of your undergraduate degree, you have to take the MCAT.

The MCAT is a grueling 7 and a half hour exam that tests students’ abilities in chemistry, biology, and physics as well as testing critical analysis and reasoning skills. It includes 230 questions and for most students is the longest exam they have ever taken.

Then, throughout medical school, students have to sit the infamous USMLE exams.

USMLE Step 1 (the first USMLE exam) is taken at the end of the second year. It covers all the topics covered in the first two years of medical school.

Step 1 has recently been changed to a pass/fail model to reduce the emphasis that has been placed on the exam in recent years. Whether this will work to will just shift the focus onto Step 2 remains to be seen.

In your fourth and final year of medical school, you take the Step 2 CK and CS exams which cover the clinical material covered in the last two years.

Finally, after completing one year of residency (the internship) USMLE Step 3 is taken.


The exams are slightly easier in the UK (but undoubtedly still difficult).

At the end of each year, most medical schools have end-of-year exams. These exams cover the year’s content either in the form of essays or multiple-choice questions. There are only a few medical schools that still use essays as a primary way of examining students (e.g. Cambridge).

The exams are usually passed/fail and are based on lectures, which means as long as you know everything on the exam you should be fine.

In the final year of school, there tend to be three exams students need to take:

  1. SJT (situational judgement test) – ethical based questions
  2. PSA (prescribing safety assessment) – tests the prescription-making ability of students
  3. Final year exams – covers all clinical content that is needed to graduate as a doctor in the UK

There is no national exam board as of yet like the US’s USMLE (although the UKMLA sees to change that) which means all the exams are set internally by each University. They are regulated by the GMC to ensure some standardization.

Time to Become a Doctor

The time taken to become a doctor is important to consider.

In the US, it can take between 10 and 13 years to become a fully qualified doctor (the time taken to just become a doctor is only eight years). This is similar to the UK.

In the UK, it can take between 10 and 14 years to become a fully qualified consultant. After graduation, you have to do foundation year training and then registrar training which can take more than nine years in total. Therefore the postgraduate training is much longer in the UK.

In the UK, it is also typical to take time out to boost your CV (resume). This is because consultant posts are very competitive, especially in big cities like London. Therefore, the time to be a doctor may be even longer than 14 years.

If you are thinking of moving to the US from the UK though, these times will be different. This is because the US only requires 4 years of training after graduating to qualify while the UK requires over 9 years of training after graduating to become a fully qualified doctor.

Therefore, if moving from the UK to the US, you should consider how much quicker it would be to move to the US.

If you are considering this move, consider checking out this excellent course by liberty medics which takes you step-by-step through the process of getting into a US residency program as an international student/doctor.

I went to their course in real life and it was truly one of the best I have ever been to and this online course proves to be just as good if not better.

Also Read: can uk consultant doctors work in usa, is it easier to become a doctor in uk or usa, uk vs us doctors reddit.

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doctor salary in us vs uk

Doctors in the US earn more than 3 times as UK doctors.  

Below is a table that compares how much UK and US doctors earn. Note that the US salaries are given in dollars while the UK salaries are given in pounds.

US ($)UK (£)
Starting Salary68K28K
Average Salary294K66K

Overall, across all states and medical specialties, the mean salary of a doctor in the United States is $294,000/year (Medscape Report).

Unfortunately, specific US doctors’ salaries are not publicly available like UK doctor salaries are.

However, using the resources available online I have compiled an estimate of what the average doctor in the US expects to earn.

Brief Explanation of US Training Pathway

In the US, after graduating from medical school you apply for a residency post.

The first year of residency is called your “intern” year. After this, for the rest of your training, you are simply called a resident.

Residents are often referred to in terms of how many years it has been since they graduated. This is measured in “PGY” (Post-graduate year).

A PGY-2 doctor means they have been a doctor for two years.

After 3-7 years of residency, you can become an attending, the highest post of a doctor in the US (equivalent to a consultant in the UK).

Before becoming an attending, some doctors decide to undergo one or two years to further sub-specialize which is called a “fellowship”.

Intern and Residency Salaries

The first year of residency is called the internship year.

Typically, the average intern earns $55,200 while a resident earns $61,200.

The main variable is geographic location. For example, a Cleveland, Ohio-based resident might earn $59K while a New York resident might earn $71K.

Salary tends to rise by a few thousand dollars each year through residency.

Most programs tend to be either 3-4 years long, but if you were to do a fellowship after residency training, your last year of training would be a ‘PGY-6’ year (postgraduate year 6) during which your pay would continue to increase, up to $80K+.

The below table is taken from the Medscape Residents Salary & Debt Report 2019. It shows the average salary that a resident can expect to earn at each year of their training.

LevelPay ($)
Year 155,200
Year 257,100
Year 360,100
Year 462,400
Year 565,200
Years 6-867,800

Attending Salary

Specialist doctors (e.g. neurologists, cardiologist) earn an average of $346,000.

Those that were employed earned an average of $297K while self-employed earned an average of $357K.

Below are the salaries of each specialty taken from the Physician Compensation Report 2020.

Average Physician Compensation

As you can see, the top-paying specialties are more than doubling the bottom-paying specialties.

Most also have an “incentive bonus” of $26,000 which is paid on top of the salary.

An incentive bonus is something which they get paid if certain targets are met.

An example of a target would be noting down the blood pressure of every patient with a heart condition.

The incentives that are offered range from an average of $96K in orthopedics to $24K for family medicine doctors.

Below are the incentive bonuses offered for each specialty, also taken from the Physician Compensation Report 2020.

Family Doctor (GP) Salary

Family care doctors earn an average of $234,000, $60,000 less than the average salary across the country.

In most reports, family medicine doctors tend to be the lowest paid.

Does the State You Work in Matter?

Certain states pay better than others. They are not all built the same. 

It tends to be the states which are the most competitive get paid the least. This is because they don’t need any incentive to invite people to work in that state.

Here is a list of the top-earning states:

  • Kentucky ($346K)
  • Tennesse ($338K)
  • Florida ($333K)

Summary of US Doctors Salary

Here is a summary of what doctors in the US earn.

LevelPay ($)
Residency55K – 68K
Attending Average294K
Specialist Doctor346K
Family Care Doctor234K

UK Doctors Salary

Brief Explanation of UK Training Pathway

Before talking about the salaries of doctors in the UK, it is important to understand what the training pathway of a doctor is.  

After graduating from medical school, a doctor has to do two years of foundation year training called FY1 and FY2 (sometimes shortened to F1 and F2). After this, they complete core training which takes 2-3 years, and then registrar training which is an additional 3-4 years depending on the specialty.

After all of that, they finally become a consultant.

UK doctors training pathway

Some specialties do not need core training and rather have 7 years of dedicated training to that specialty. Examples of specialties that are like this are ophthalmology, radiology, and obstetrics & gynecology.

Foundation Training Salary

A doctor in the UK starts at a base salary of £28,243 when they are in their F1 year. 

In their F2 year, they will earn £32,691. 

LevelPay (£)

Core Training & Registrar Salary

A CT1-CT2 (first two years of core training) will earn £38,693. 

This continues to increase in increments up to £49,036. 

The average hospital registrar’s salary in the United Kingdom is £41,408, with £10,174 being awarded as a bonus (see pay banding).

LevelPay (£)
Core Training38,693
Specialty Registrar49,036

Consultant Salary

A consultant working in England will earn a starting salary of £79,860.

This can increase up to a maximum of £107,668 after 19 years of service.

LevelPay (£)
Newly Qualified79,860
1 Year Completed82,361
2 Years Completed84,862
3 Years Completed87,362
4 – 8 Years Completed89,856
9 – 13 Years Completed95,795
14 – 18 Years Completed101,735
19+ Years Completed107,668

Consultants can earn extra if they are deemed to have performed exceptionally well in a particular field. If so, they can earn what is known as “Clinical Excellence Awards”. 

These are somewhat rare. However, once a doctor is earning them, they tend to keep that award forever (which means if they have a £10K award they will be earning an extra £10K for the rest of their career – although this is not entirely guaranteed).

Their awards range anywhere from £3,016 to an incredible £77,320!

GP (Family Doctor) Salary

There are different types of GPs and they can earn a wide range of money. 

A salary GP in England can earn anywhere between £58,808 and £88,744. 

Consultants can earn extra if they are deemed to have performed exceptionally well in a particular field. If so, they can earn what is known as “Clinical Excellence Awards”. 

These are somewhat rare. However, once a doctor is earning them, they tend to keep that award forever (which means if they have a £10K award they will be earning an extra £10K for the rest of their career – although this is not entirely guaranteed).

Their awards range anywhere from £3,016 to an incredible £77,320!

GP (Family Doctor) Salary

There are different types of GPs and they can earn a wide range of money. 

A salary GP in England can earn anywhere between £58,808 and £88,744. 

LevelPay (£)

As you can see, the pay for a GP is not entirely based on the number of years worked. That is because each individual is paid differently based on location and experience (as some GPs may have previously been a specialist, their pay would differ based on that experience).

There is also another type of GP called a partner GP.

The average income for GP partners is £103,800. The reason it is so much higher is that they have a lot more responsibility and paperwork to deal with as they are effectively self-employed.

Pay Banding

The above salaries for UK doctors are only base salaries.

They can be and often are, paid much more than this amount based on the number of extra hours worked. This is where something called pay banding comes in.

Pay banding is essentially a way of calculating overtime pay. 

Doctors are paid a salary based on working 40 hours per week.

If more than 40 hours per week are worked, or a doctor works before 7 am or after 7 pm, they receive a supplement. These supplements are called pay bands.

The value of this supplement depends on:

  • Number of hours worked
  • Time actually spent working
  • The overall pattern of the hours

Summary of UK Doctors Salary

Here is a complete summary of the salary a doctor in the UK will have. 

LevelPay (£)
Foundation Years28,243 – 32,691
Registrar38,963 – 49,036
Consultant79,860 – 107,688

can uK consultant doctors work in uSA

A UK doctor can work in the US if they meet certain criteria and pass certain, very difficult, exams. Once all the exams are completed, you are given an ECFMG certificate, meaning you can practice in the US.

Although UK doctors can move to the US, it is by no means a straightforward process. It requires a lot of dedication and hard work. You need to pass basic science exams like the USMLE Step 1, clinical exams like Step 2 as well as gain experience in the US via electives, get letters of recommendation, and so on and so on.

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The list of things you have to do is endless.

However, you must understand everything if you want to work in the US. The competition for residency places is incredibly high and as an international medical graduate (IMG), you stand an even worse chance. But don’t worry, this article will give you all the information you need.

First, though, you need to understand a few commonly used terms.

USMLE Explanation

The USMLE (the United States Medical Licensing Examination) is a set of exams taken by every doctor that wants to enter the US. they are notoriously challenging and are one of the main reasons international doctors cannot go to the US.

IMG and FMG Explanation

Throughout this article, there is a reference to IMGs (short for International Medical Graduates). This is essentially anyone who has graduated from medical school in a country outside of the US and also includes US citizens who attended medical school outside the US (e.g. the Caribbean). The latter are called US IMGs. IMGs are sometimes referred to as FMGs (short for Foreign Medical Graduate). These are the same thing.

ECFMG Explanation

The ECFMG (Educational Commission For Foreign Medical Graduates) is a certificate that IMGs get when they are eligible to apply to the match.

If you can get the certificate, it means you are deemed good enough to be a doctor in the US.

The requirements needed to get an ECFMG certificate are given below.

ERAS Explanation

The ERAS (Electronic Residency Application Service) is an online service that allows information like examination transcripts, personal statements, and letters of recommendation to be kept and sent to residency programs. It is the US equivalent of UCAS or Oriel.

Residency Explanation

Residency is the equivalent of being a registrar in the UK. There is no F1 or F2 post in the US as they go straight into their specialties after medical school. After residency, doctors are known as attendings. An attending is the equivalent of a consultant.

Match Explanation

The match is when US medical students find out if they have a place to work. It is when they “match” into their residency positions – essentially a results day.

To move to the US, there are a few things that are needed no matter which country you are coming from.

Here is a brief list of the requirements which we will go into more depth later:

  • Complete a medical degree at a recognised medical school (on the World Directory of Medical Schools)
  • Pass USMLE Step 1, 2 and 3 (step 2 must be taken in the US)
  • Go to the US and gain clinical experience (when in the final year of medical school)
  • Succeed in getting an ECFMG certificate (achieved after the above is complete)
  • Get letters of recommendations (ideally from US doctors)
  • Attain a valid visa or green card
  • Have approximately $15,000 in cash

There is no way a doctor can move to the US without taking the USMLE exams. You have to take them.

Below I have some common questions that people ask when discussing this topic.

How Long Does it Take?

The whole process of moving to the US would take up to 2 years depending on when you do it. If you pick a bad time to start the process it could potentially take up to 3 years.

How Much Does it Cost?

All in all, it costs about $15,000 to move to the US. The exams themselves cost about $1000 each, while the number of times you have to go to the US as well as the resources you have to use all end up adding up. It may seem like a lot, but it is an investment.

Doctors in the US earn much more than UK doctors, and so even though $15,000 is a lot right now, when you are earning upwards of $200,000 a year, you probably won’t regret your decision.

benefits of being a doctor in uK

You may have been looking into the salary of UK doctors and feel that it is much lower compared to other English-speaking countries. This is a fair observation. 

Whenever I have doubts about this, I compare it to what my salary and employee benefits would have been back home (in the Philippines) at this stage of my career, and it helps me to appreciate the journey I’ve taken to move to the UK.

Because it’s not all about take-home pay. It’s important to consider some of the benefits of being an NHS employee that many other countries don’t have.

Let’s have a look at what these are:

1. Annual leave

In the UK, you are entitled to paid annual leave every year + 8 days of paid bank holidays. As an NHS doctor, the longer you work in the NHS, the more annual leave you get.

The table below summarises what you’re entitled to:

Length of serviceAnnual leave entitlement
0-5 years27 days + 8 days bank holidays
After 5 years29 days + 8 days bank holidays
After 10 years33 days + 8 days bank holidays

If you work on a bank holiday, then you should get another day off in return. This is called a time off in-lieu or TOIL

2. Study leave

Trainees from FY2 and above, and sometimes even non-trainees (with negotiation), will be entitled to paid study leave.

For trainees, this is usually 30 days a year. The majority of this time is allocated to compulsory teaching sessions provided by the training program. Some of the time is given to trainees to decide what to do with. Typically these are used to attend courses, conferences, and study for exams.

3. Study budget

Trainees, and often non-trainees (with negotiation), will have access to some amount of money to attend courses and conferences. It usually covers for course fees and in some cases travel and accommodation. It won’t usually cover all the expenses but it certainly helps.

4. Study sessions

Study sessions are separate from study leave and form part of your regular weekly or monthly timetable. The allocation of study sessions varies per specialty and per region.

Trainees, and sometimes even non-trainees (with negotiation), can have a 1-2 half days a week or month for study or administrative tasks. These can be used to work on audits, presentations, publications, research etc. It can also be used to catch up on paperwork, although ideally, it should be more academic-focused.

5. Sick leave

You are entitled to paid sick leave separate from your annual leave. Your sick days will not be deducted from your annual leave days. If you get sick during annual leave you may be able to claim it back so you can use the annual leave for another time.

Please note that if you are off sick for too many days in a year, you may need to extend your training or repeat a year.

6. Maternity and Paternity leave

Maternity leave – regardless of how long you’ve been working in the NHS, all pregnant employees are entitled to 1-year maternity leave. It is illegal for your employer to fire you during this time. Depending on how long you’ve been working in the NHS during pregnancy, you may also be entitled to maternity pay. Please see this article for more details.

Paternity leave – fathers are entitled to 2 weeks of paternity leave. This is actually called “Maternity support” leave and applies to same-sex partners as well as nominated carers for single mothers. It can be paid leave if the father/same-sex partner/nominated carer has been an NHS employee for a year before the baby was born.

Shared parental leave – In some cases, the one-year maternity leave can be shared between the parents.

7. Part-time training

You can request to complete your training part-time. This can be for a variety of reasons including balancing work and other commitments like caring for children or an elderly family member, doing a part-time degree, or just for work-life balance.

This is known as “less than full-time training” or LTFT training.  The least you can work is 50%, this will mean you will take twice as long to complete your training. For example, GP training is 3 years long if you work full time or at 100%. It will be 6 years long if you work LTFT at 50%.

Your annual salary with LTFT training will be considerably less than a full-time job and this may have implications for those on a Tier 2 visa where you generally need to earn more than £30,000 per year.

8. Parental leave

You are also entitled to 18 weeks of parental leave for each child spread over 18 years until your child turns 18. Some weeks may be paid but most of this leave is unpaid. It can be used for various things such as helping your child settle in school, staying with them in hospital, or just spending more time with your children.

9. NHS pension

Many financial advisors will tell you that the NHS pension is a good deal and you won’t find a better private pension plan out there to replace it – at least that’s what several have advised me! You can read more about the NHS pension on this BMA page and decide for yourself whether you want to opt-out of it.

10. NHS discounts

NHS employees also enjoy some discounts with shops and services. Don’t forget to ask any shop, restaurant, hotel or any service whether they offer and discounts to NHS employees.

For the full terms and conditions of working in the NHS, please read through the employee handbook.

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