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University Hospitals and District General Hospitals in the UK; What's the difference?

  • July 01, 2022

Within the UK, navigating the sometimes complex structure of the NHS can be tricky – the way in which patients access care will depend not only on where they live, but also on the type and severity of the issue. Hospitals therefore vary in size and don’t always offer the same services/facilities, so before taking a job you should understand the organisation you are about to join.

One question we get a lot is about the difference between University Hospital’s and District General Hospitals, so we’d like to use this blog to explore the differences in each type and outline what that might mean for you as a doctor working there! 

What is a University Hospital?

A teaching hospital is typically thought of as a secondary or tertiary care facility located in a larger city that is connected to a medical school; frequently with a sizable academic focus and a track record of excellence in research. As you can imagine, being attached to a medical school means that the hospital will be home to many undergraduate students of every health care discipline as well as doctors rotating through formal UK training programs.

Doctors trained in the UK will not remain solely in rotations at these University establishments, with some work experience coming from District General Hospitals too. An NHS provider must meet certain criteria in order to be recognised as having "University" status, according to guidelines provided by the University Hospital Association – broadly this entails investment to a pre-defined and high level in areas such as research, education and innovation.

What is a General District Hospital?

General Hospitals may be academic health facilities or community-based entities; they are general in the sense that they admit all types of medical and surgical cases.

Despite General District Hospitals previously being thought to not often focus on research, in recent years due to demand, most have either partnered with medical schools in order to participate in research or are independently engaged in research projects. They tend to serve lower population areas and so they will usually be smaller in size, referring complex cases and treatments to larger regional centres. That said, this is by no means a rule and there are large District Hospitals with bigger units and capacity than some University Hospitals. For example, Southmead Hospital in Bristol is not classified as a University Hospital and has 996 beds, whereas Royal Sussex County Hospital (the main site of University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust) has 785 beds.

So what does this mean for me?

Whether you are considering a post at a University Hospital or a District General Hospital the opportunity itself and role offered will not be hugely influenced by the type of hospital – your choice should be anchored in the details of the offer itself, the department you would be working within and your personal situation/career plan. In a service role it is more important to decipher the type of support you can be given in terms of educational supervisors, CESR support and dedicated SPAs for Royal College study time, in addition to the salary and other tangible benefits. The point here is that a larger District General Hospital may offer be able to offer you all the CESR support you need and all of the required rotations, when a University Hospital might not! Equally, if both offer the career support you need you may decide that a smaller, dedicated program with a smaller workload and closer contact with the Consultant will help you quickly complete the process – for a different doctor, a larger department with wider workload and busier team is a more attractive prospect.

One thing is certain, you will have the opportunity to question all of this during your interviews with the Trusts, so make sure you ask about what you need from the role at that time. Whatever type of hospital it is, it could be the perfect opportunity to start or continue your NHS career.

How we can help?

If you are a medical Doctor looking to relocate to the UK to work for the NHS, do send your CV over to [email protected] and we can support you in securing an NHS post and on your journey to relocate to the UK.

Are you a member of our Facebook group? When you join IMG Advisor, you join a community of doctors all looking to relocate to the UK and join the NHS. We post a series of vlogs and blogs to the group every day. We will also be on hand to answer all of your relocation queries.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel! We have over 60 videos on everything you need to know about relocating to the UK and joining the NHS!

Listen to BDI Resourcing on the go to IMG Advisor the Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Buzzsprout. We have a number of episodes with tips and advice on relocating to the UK and the routes you can take to achieve this.


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