Doctors in renal medicine (also known as nephrologists) diagnose and treat diseases of the kidneys.
This could include inherited conditions like polycystic kidney disease (where cysts grow in both kidneys), auto-immune disorders (where the body attacks its own tissues) and kidney tumours.
Life as a doctor in renal medicine
You’ll treat people with diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension
) and kidney stones (cystinuria). You’ll also see people with acute kidney injury (AKI) where only the kidney is affected and where AKI is part of a multi-system failure for example from blood poisoning (septicaemia).
As part of a multidiscplinary team, you’ll build relationships with and manage patients with end-stage kidney failure who need long term care, sometimes over 10–20 years. Treatment will be either by dialysis (removal of waste material from the blood of a patient with renal failure, using an artificial kidney) or kidney transplantation. This work can be emotionally tough as patients wait for a suitable transplant and very rewarding when surgery eventually takes place.
Your work will be highly varied and you’ll be based in a renal unit in a district general or university teaching hospital. Renal units typically have dedicated inpatient beds and some of the larger UK units have over fifty beds. You’ll deal with outpatient clinics covering general cases and specialist transplant and dialysis patients. You will also see inpatients on renal wards and in dialysis units. Outpatient clinic work is during traditional working hours and trainees participate in on-call rotas to see inpatients. Nearly 80% of consultants are routinely on-call at weekends.
How much can I earn?
You’ll first earn a salary when you start your foundation training after medical school. The basic salary ranges from £32,398 to £37,303. Once you start your specialty training in the NHS, you can expect to earn a salary of at least £43,923, which can increase to between £93,666 and £126,281 as a consultant.
How about the benefits?
- make a difference
- flexible and part-time working
- high income early in your career
- work anywhere in the world
- excellent pension scheme
- good holiday entitlement
- NHS discounts in shops and restaurants
- excellent communication skills to manage a wide range of relationships with colleagues, and patients and their families
- emotional resilience, a calm temperament and the ability to work well under pressure
- teamwork and the capacity to lead multidisciplinary teams
- problem-solving and diagnostic skills
- outstanding organisational ability and effective decision-making skills
- first-class time and resource management for the benefit of patients
Your first step is medical school. Typically, you’ll need excellent GCSEs and three A or A* passes at A level including chemistry for a five-year undergraduate degree in medicine. Many medical schools also ask for biology and others may require maths or physics.
If you already have a degree, you could study for a four-year postgraduate degree in medicine.
You’ll need to pass an interview and admissions test. You’ll be asked to show how you demonstrate the NHS values such as compassion and respect.
Some medical schools look to recruit a mix of students from different backgrounds and geographical areas, so your educational and economic background and family circumstances could be considered as part of your application.
What are my chances of starting a career in renal medicine?
In 2021, there were 647 nephrologists working in the NHS in England. In 2020, there were 227 applications for 67 specialty training places.
How to become a doctor in renal medicine
After medical school, you’ll join the paid two-year foundation programme where you’ll work in six placements in different settings.
After your foundation programme, you can apply for paid specialty training
to become a doctor in renal medicine, which will take a minimum of seven years.
You may be able to train part time, for example for health reasons or if you have family or caring responsibilities.
Where a career as a doctor in renal medicine can take you
- specialise or conduct research in areas such as haemodialysis, transplantation or academic nephrology
- teach medical students or postgraduate students in training
- get involved in research at universities, the NHS or private sector
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