What Are a Doctor's Responsibilities? (Plus Requirements)

Updated 22 May 2023

The primary responsibility of a doctor is to ensure they can provide their patients with the best level of care. A talented doctor can perform these tasks efficiently while practising a range of soft skills, such as effective communication. When considering a career in medicine, it may be helpful to know the basic duties a doctor performs daily. In this article, we explain what a doctor's responsibilities are, outline the necessary qualifications and note the national average salary of doctors.

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What are a doctor's responsibilities?

There are seven key tasks that make up a doctor's responsibilities that most perform as part of their daily working routine. The duties of a doctor may vary depending on where they work, the type of doctor they are and the conditions of the patients they treat that day. While there may be some differences in a doctor's primary tasks, outlined below are seven common duties that doctors within any speciality can typically perform. These include the following:

Assessing a patient's symptoms

One of the primary duties of a doctor is to assess a patient's symptoms. How a doctor examines a patient depends on the symptoms that the individual is experiencing and the possible causing factors. For example, if a patient is having a sharp pain in their arm after falling off a bike, a doctor is likely to use their medical knowledge to predict that the patient has a broken arm. The doctor may then take the patient to have their arm x-rayed.

For more internal illnesses and diseases, a doctor may require a blood test or urine sample from the patient to send to a lab and look for any abnormalities. If a patient is experiencing a progressive illness, a doctor may regularly assess their symptoms to note if they are worsening.

Diagnosing any illnesses and other conditions

A doctor is qualified to diagnose a range of illnesses, injuries, diseases or pains that a patient may be experiencing. They may run several tests on a patient before they reach their final diagnosis to ensure their decision is accurate. They also want to ensure that they can rule other illnesses out.

The time it takes for a doctor to make a diagnosis depends on what the ailment is and the severity of symptoms that the patient is showing. For injuries, doctors can usually make an accurate diagnosis straight away, whereas diseases or chronic illnesses may take a few weeks for a doctor to detect.

Planning and conducting a patient's course of treatment

Following a diagnosis, a doctor may then plan and prepare a course of treatment for the patient. Individuals in this profession use their technical knowledge and medical research skills to find the quickest and most effective form of treatment. This process may include finding suitable medication, providing care for any external wounds or referring a patient to a more specialised doctor.

A doctor typically discusses their recommended treatment course with the patient to ensure that the individual is happy to proceed. If the doctor is treating a child, they may require the parents' permission to conduct a treatment plan.

Related: General Practitioner Roles (With Responsibilities)

Administering follow-up care for patients if necessary

If a doctor feels they cannot treat a patient effectively, they may refer the patient to a specialist organisation or healthcare provider. This may occur if a patient is experiencing problems with their teeth, eyes or mental health because a dentist, optometrist or psychiatrist is more likely to find the root of the issue.

A doctor may also ask a patient to make a follow-up appointment with them for a variety of reasons. These reasons may be to check the progress of symptoms, run further tests and administer higher or lower doses of medication. They may also ask patients to arrange a further appointment to discuss any blood test or laboratory results. For wounds, a doctor may want to redress bandages and thoroughly cleanse the cut to prevent infection.

Consulting with other healthcare professionals

During their working day, a doctor may consult with other healthcare professionals that work at their organisation or a specialist unit. A doctor may ask a nurse practitioner to assist them with running tests or consult with a fellow doctor to gain a second expert opinion on a patient's case. If they wish to have a patient admitted to a hospital, they may communicate with hospital staff via telephone to arrange an appointment on behalf of their patient.

If a patient is experiencing symptoms that are associated with a specific area in medicine, a doctor may contact a specialist unit to consult with a specialist doctor. For example, if a patient is complaining of frequent chest pains, a doctor may consult with a cardiologist to discuss a suitable treatment plan.

Prescribing medication

A doctor is also responsible for prescribing the most effective medicine for a patient's symptoms. They may write up a prescription for the patient to take with them to a pharmacy or contact the pharmacy directly. Doctors can prescribe medication to either cure illnesses or offer relief from symptoms. This medication can take various forms, including tablets, gels, creams and liquids.

To ensure the prescribed medication is effective, a doctor may ask the patient to schedule a follow-up appointment. If the medicine has made no improvements to the patient's illness, the doctor can then consider other medications or alternative forms of treatment. It is crucial that a doctor is aware of the patient's allergies or intolerances before prescribing medication.

Staying updated with medical research

A skilled doctor requires a wealth of technical knowledge to identify and treat ailments. As technological and medicinal research progresses, it is the responsibility of a doctor to ensure that they are up to date on the latest advancements in the healthcare industry. This includes researching new diseases, understanding the risks and benefits of new medications and learning how to conduct new procedures. Staying knowledgeable about the latest research is essential for doctors to offer their patients the most accurate and safe advice.

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What qualifications do doctors require?

Doctors require a formal education so that they're knowledgeable in an array of technical topics and possess the skills to diagnose and treat patients. For doctors to find employment, it's imperative they gain qualifications and professional training, as a healthcare organisation's primary concern is their patients' welfare. A doctor requires a secondary school diploma with a bachelor's university degree in a medicine or surgery course. These degrees typically take between three and four years to complete. A postgraduate degree in medicine is necessary for gaining a licence as a medical practitioner, which the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) provides.

Once a prospective doctor completes the educational requirements, they require a residency or fellowship in their selected specialist area. These are opportunities to work in a professional setting to enable doctors to apply the skills they learnt during university to real-life scenarios. Many doctors study their specialist area in depth during their residency or fellowship to increase their technical skills. This work typically takes three to five years to complete, depending on the specialist area they have selected. Once the doctor's supervisor has approved them and they pass any written or practical tests, a doctor can then seek full-time work.


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How much do doctors make?

The national average annual salary for a general practitioner is $223,085 per year. This income figure is likely to vary depending on several factors, such as the years of experience the doctor has, the area that they specialise in, along with their specific employer. Regional location can also affect the average annual salary of a doctor because of differences in living costs. The average salary of a doctor per city in Australia is as follows:

  • Meadowbrook QLD: $257,128 per year

  • Canberra ACT: $232,726 per year

  • Perth WA: $230,857 per year

  • Melbourne VIC: $230,329 per year

  • Brisbane QLD: $229,976 per year

  • Sunshine Coast QLD: $229,181 per year

  • Gold Coast QLD: $227,707 per year

  • Cairns QLD: $227,326 per year

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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