1. Home
  2. Careers
  3. Medical Doctor

Medical Doctor

What does a Medical Doctor do?

Doctors, or GPs (general practitioners), provide primary and continuing medical care for patients. They diagnose physical and mental illnesses, disorders and injuries, and prescribe medications and treatment to promote or restore good health, taking account of physical, emotional and social factors. Patients may be referred to hospital clinics for further assessment and/or treatment. Doctors often work in a team that includes practice nurses, health visitors, midwives, counsellors and administrative support staff.

Doctors may perform the following tasks:

  • examine the patient to determine the nature of the disorder or illness and record the patient’s medical information
  • order, perform and analyse laboratory tests, X-rays and other diagnostic images and procedures
  • provide overall care and prescribe and administer treatments and medications
  • advise patients on diet, exercise, hygiene and general health
  • provide pre- and post-natal care
  • report births, deaths and notifiable diseases to government authorities
  • refer patients to other medical specialists and exchange relevant medical details.

What qualifications do I need?

A degree in medicine is essential for entry into this profession. Doctors (GPs) must undergo full-time study in medicine, followed by an internship and community service. A National Senior Certificate that meets the requirements for a degree course is a prerequisite. Competition to get into medicine is extremely high, so it is imperative to achieve high marks in the final year of school. Once the theoretical learning, practical training and work experience are completed, graduates must register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa in order to practice legally as a doctor.

What subjects do I need?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics
• Physical Sciences
• Biology


Where can I study?

University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Medicine

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Medicine

North-West University
Bachelor of Medicine

University of Pretoria
Bachelor of Medicine

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Bachelor of Medicine

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Medicine

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Medicine

University of Cape Town
Bachelor of Medicine

Where can I get more info?

Health Professions Council of South Africa – www.hpcsa.co.za
South African Medical Association – www.samedical.org


Interview with a Medical Doctor

Wendy Ann Dicks  | DOCTOR (GP) | Private Practice Partnership

Wendy Ann Dicks | DOCTOR (GP) | Private Practice Partnership


Why did you decide to be a doctor?
I don’t think many people in their carefree, formative years think about much else besides exams, hair and the cutest person in the class! But if one must be academic, I had an interest in the medical or scientific arena and was striving for either physiotherapy or medicine. Both sounded like interesting, scientific, people-orientated careers, but the latter won as it sounded like more money and less work. More studying in the short term, more gain in the long!

What training did you undergo?
Training is currently six years in total, with two years of internship and one year of community service. Internship is an excellent time to work as a junior doctor and, if truth be told, this is the real place of learning as one really learns so much ‘on the job’. Internship and community service are paid employment so you are no longer a student, but internship is partially supervised. Training in the first two to three years of med school is theory-orientated.

From the third to fourth year onwards, training is largely hospital-based and this is where the fun begins… ward rounds with throngs of innocent-looking, white-coated medical students hanging onto the words of a professor as they peer round a bed; that elusive diagnosis and differential constantly bantered about amongst the group. It is an analytical profession and one is taught to put together the theory and the clinical examination to come up with an answer. It is like completing a puzzle. Night shifts are a common feature from fourth and fifth year onwards and, although exhausting, it is so much fun and filled with a variety of different disciplines: delivering babies, putting up drips, taking bloods and stitching wounds, assisting the surgeon in theatre at 2am.

Experience versus formal training?
Experience is equally as important as the theory. During internship and community service you get plenty of experience. I am thrilled, proud and privileged to have trained in South Africa; nowhere else offers such a wealth of experience and opportunity for learning. You’ll have all the clinical skills needed once you’ve done community service.

Describe a typical day on the job
Morning starts in my consulting room with a cup of coffee, checking of messages and any blood results or X-ray reports waiting in the in tray. Patients are booked at 15-minute intervals and I see a succession: today it’s an old lady with a severe kidney infection, twins with asthma, a pharmacy query in between, and then off to a house call at the local old-age home.

What do you like the most about your job?
People, and the practicality of it. I get to be up and about, examining, talking and doing things. Oh and, best of all, there is no ‘homework’ – i.e. no reports or financial statements to complete, and no deadlines!

Which aspects are you least keen on?
Telling people they have a serious illness like cancer.

Your career highlight to date
Delivering a breech baby safely to a happy mother after remembering a picture in a textbook on how to do it (there was no senior doctor around)!

What are your goals for the future?
To keep changing and exploring different aspects of medicine; it is so diverse.

Any advice for wannabe doctors?
Remember to seek quality of life in whichever field you choose to specialise. Some are quite demanding.