Transition: health professionals as medical students

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It has long been acknowledged that health professionals who retrain as doctors make a significant contribution to the medical profession. Having a background as a health professional sets this group apart from the other medical students, including mature students. It is therefore important to understand more about how health professionals adapt to their role as medical students.


A qualitative approach was adopted, in which interviews were conducted with 12 of the possible 30 medical students who met the inclusion criterion: namely that they were or had been registered health professionals.


The most common driver to retrain was a desire to seek a fresh challenge, and they described their previous roles as limited; however, returning to student status after life as an autonomous health professional was initially very uncomfortable. Once they loosened their grip on their previous role and embraced life as a medical student the students eventually realised that, irrespective of their previous health profession, they had a set of core professional abilities that they could bring to their role as a doctor.


There has been considerable focus on the support required for mature students, graduate students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Little attention has been afforded to the experience of health professionals as medical students. This category of individual already possesses a wealth of experience, knowledge and attitudes relevant to health care work. This experience should be built upon so that the transition from ‘expert’ to ‘novice’ is as comfortable as possible for all parties.

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