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Surgery Entry Requirements and Training

Training to become a surgeon takes time and is competitive - not everyone who starts the process will finish. Although there are set exams that need to be passed, there are alternative paths you can consider at different stages in your career.

The table below shows the most common training route. There are many alternative paths you can consider at different stages in your career, but this is the standard training route.

Medical School

Duration 5 – 6 years.
Content Basic knowledge required for all medical specialties.
Application method UCAS.
Normal entry requirements Good GCSEs, at least seven at grade A (7) or A* (8+). At least three A Levels, normally at grades AAA, including chemistry with at least one other science or maths. UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) or BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test). See UCAS for further details.
For more information, see our guide on applying to medical school.

Foundation Training

Duration 2 years.
Content A paid training job in a clinical setting. Foundation trainees will rotate around a number of different medical specialties.
Application method Applicants apply via the UK Foundation Programme. Medical students are “matched“ to places based on their application form.
Normal entry requirements Successful completion of approved medical degree.

Core Surgical Training

Duration 2 years.
Content A paid training job in a hospital setting with rotations covering a range of surgical specialties. These may be themed towards one particular specialty or sub-specialty.
Application method Applications are made via Oriel
Normal entry requirements Completion of required Foundation competencies and full GMC registration. Applicants should read the person specifications to ensure they meet all of the requirements.

In some specialties, surgical trainees can begin specialty training at ST1. This is the equivalent of Core Surgical Training. Health Education England provide more information on this. The RCS launched the Improving Surgical Training pilot in 2017, which has introduced run-through training in a number of surgical specialties to trial improvements in surgical training.

Trainees wishing to continue their surgical training at specialty level must complete their Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons exam (MRCS) by the end of their CT2 year. This exam is a prerequisite for Specialty Training. The MRCS covers all areas of surgical practice and both Part A and Part B of the exam may be sat during Foundation Training and/or Core Surgical Training. 

Specialty Training

Duration Approximately 6 years.
Content A paid training job in a hospital setting. Training will be in one surgical specialty, at the end of which you can apply for a senior appointment (consultant post).
Application method Applications are made via Oriel. Applicants should check they meet all of the necessary requirements on the person specification for their chosen specialty.
Normal entry requirements

Completion of Core SurgicalTraining competencies, GMC registration and completion of the MRCS examination.

Senior medical appointment

Once you have completed your surgical training, you will be eligible to take the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) exam. This exam is a mandatory requirement for the award of a Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) or Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR). The examinations are regulated by the Joint Committee on Intercollegiate Examinations (JCIE) for UK residents. The Joint Surgical Colleges’ Fellowship Examination (JSCFE) provide the exam for the international surgical community. The FRCS exam must be sat with the royal college of your choice.

Once a surgeon has attained CCT or CESR, they will be added to the GMC's specialist register and will be eligible to apply for a consultant post or a fellowship for further, more specialised training.

Alternative routes

Those who have completed training abroad or not followed the traditional UK pathway can enter training at various points if they can provide evidence of equivalent clinical and professional competencies. You can find the person specifications for each level of training on the Health Education England website. You must ensure you meet all of the essential criteria for your chosen level of training. 

Doctors and surgeons not wishing to follow the training pathway may wish to work in an SAS role. SAS posts comprise of staff grades, associate specialists, specialty doctors, clinical assistants, hospital practitioners and other non-standard, non-training Trust grades.

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