What does it mean to be a physician?


Befitting a physician; Of, or relating to, a physician

A physicianly attitude; A physicianly manner

Internationally, ‘physician’ has become synonymous with the word ‘doctor’ – someone who is qualified to practice medicine. 

In the UK, which is where I’m based, it defines a particular type of doctor. that is, a medical doctor who focuses on the non-surgical treatment of patients conditions. That is distinct from other medical practices such as surgery, general practice, gynaecology or psychiatry.

Often when people who aren’t from a healthcare background ask what I do as a physician, I tend to reply with what a physician is not – for example, not a surgeon

But what do I actually do? 

I’ve had the privilege of treating patients with a range of illnesses affecting various body systems including the brain, eyes, heart, lungs, skin, kidneys and gut. I do this through a combination of taking a history, physical examination, organising investigations and then prescribing medicines or undertaking procedures, or both.

I’ve found my work as a physician trainee to be really dynamic, fulfilling and intellectually stimulating. 

How long does it take to become a physician? The first thing you need is a medical degree. This typically takes 5 years. Then you’ll need to complete foundation training and then internal medicine training. Combined, this takes another 5 years. During this time you need to pass the Royal College of Physicians entrance exam. Passing this not only signifies that you have the skills and attitude needed to become a physician, in terms of being able to diagnose diseases and communicate effectively with patients, but also lets you show off that you are a member of the royal college of physicians by putting the letters MRCP after your name.

Once you’ve done all this (which is a minimum of 10 years training altogether) you can proceed to higher specialty training in one of various medical specialties. There are currently 30 altogether. This requires another 4 or 5 years training at least. I’m currently in my 3rd year of higher specialty training. After completing your higher specialty training then you become a consultant 

So how long does it take to become a fully qualified consultant physician, from the start of medical school to the completion of specialty training? About 15 years. That’s assuming you do it full time without breaks.

More commonplace nowadays is for doctors to take time out of training for various reasons, so typically it takes a bit longer. Doctors may take time out of medical training for a break, going travelling, learning something new, taking a career break or doing research. And sometimes life happens. I think taking time out of training to do other things makes for a better physician, and I’d strongly encourage it.