What Does a Hospital Registrar Do? (Plus Qualifications)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Becoming a doctor in the Australian medical system involves several career phases, where the candidate learns new skills and accumulates an increasing amounts of responsibility. After earning a medical degree, completing an internship and serving as a resident, a medical professional may become a registrar, either in a generalist setting or in a hospital. If you're considering a career in hospital medicine, learning what hospital registrars do can help you decide whether this path suits your skills and professional goals. In this article, we describe what hospital registrars do and list some key qualifications for these professionals.

What does a hospital registrar do?

Answering 'What does a hospital registrar do' can help you learn more about these medical professionals who treat patients while completing advanced training in a chosen area of specialty, like neurosurgery or emergency medicine. Typically, they work on a contract basis for six months to a year. After completing a contract, they apply for another one at a different hospital, so they can learn from multiple experts in their field and gain experience with different patient populations. This process usually continues for four to six years until the registrar completes their training requirements and applies to become a specialist.

Here are some of the major tasks a hospital registrar completes:

Demonstrating medical procedures

A hospital registrar may show junior medical practitioners, like residents, interns and students completing their clinical programs, how to perform certain medical procedures. In teaching hospitals, a registrar may have a group of junior practitioners who follow them on their rounds and observe how they interact with their patients. A registrar who works in a specialised department, like a burn or cancer ward, might focus on those particular conditions when demonstrating medical procedures. While performing the procedure, they may ask the interns or students questions to test their knowledge of common medical procedures.

Diagnosing patients

While nurses, interns and resident doctors typically conduct the patient intake process and take the patient's vital signs, a hospital registrar often makes the first diagnosis that a patient receives in the hospital setting. Depending on the registrar's area of specialisation, they may meet with patients who have come into the hospital's emergency services department or those who have been referred by their primary doctor. To diagnose a patient, the registrar may read the patient's notes, conduct a physical examination and request blood tests and imaging scans, like an MRI or X-ray.

Creating treatment plans

After diagnosing a patient, the hospital registrar may develop a treatment plan for their illness or injury. These plans may include medication, therapy, surgery and other treatments. In an emergency department, the hospital registrar may create a plan to treat the patient's immediate need and then refer them to another department for a permanent solution. For example, they may treat a gallstone infection with medication and fluids before referring the patient to the internal medicine department to schedule gallbladder surgery. They may discuss the treatment plan with the patient and their caregiver or delegate that task to a resident.

Related: What is an Emergency Doctor? (And How to Become One)

Meeting with medical consultants

A medical consultant is an expert in a specific field of medicine, like thoracic surgery or paediatric oncology. These experienced practitioners may work full-time at a hospital or divide their working hours between a hospital and a private practice. They serve as resources for registrars and may perform complex surgeries with the registrar's help. Often, a registrar diagnoses a patient and creates a treatment plan that they share with the specialist for approval. If a registrar has a patient with a complex diagnosis, they may ask for the consultant's help in designing a treatment plan.

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Assisting in surgeries

Hospital registrars in a surgical training program may assist medical consultants or other specialists as they complete surgical procedures. This allows the medical registrar to observe an experienced surgeon and learn best practices in the operating room. Since medical registrars are completing a specialised training program while working in the hospital, they typically assist in surgeries related to their field of study. For example, a registrar training to become a neurosurgeon may assist in brain or spinal surgeries, supervised by an experienced neurosurgeon. During procedures, they may hand the senior surgeon instruments, adjust lights or cameras and make incisions.

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Completing training programs

To become a hospital registrar, a medical practitioner enrols with a medical specialty college to pursue advanced training in their chosen field. These colleges provide training requirements for registrars, who can complete their training while working at a participating hospital. Along with their clinical duties, these professionals attend training seminars and classes on topics related to their field. These seminars and classes may take place at the hospital, at the medical specialty college or online. Completing the required educational and clinical hours allows a registrar to earn a licence in their field of medicine.

Related: How To Become a Medical Intern (With Steps and Benefits)

Responding to medical emergencies

In many hospitals, registrars serve on call for 24-hour periods several times a week. The registrar staff of a hospital or department rotate this responsibility, ensuring that the nurses and junior medical practitioners always have access to a senior member of staff. During emergency situations, the hospital administrators may call additional registrars to support the on-call practitioner. While some hospitals also keep a medical consultant on call, others expect the registrars to take control in emergency situations and contact the consultant later. This means that a registrar might perform emergency surgeries while a consultant might handle scheduled medical procedures.

Liaising between departments

A hospital registrar may be the point of contact when a patient transfers from one department to another. Their knowledge of the patient's condition can provide insights into treatment methods. For example, a hospital registrar in the emergency department might treat a patient's symptoms and refer them to the internal medicine department for surgery. If the assigned surgeon in that department has questions about the patient's symptoms or reactions to certain medications, they may speak with the registrar to get more information. The registrar may also communicate with the nursing staff and technicians about the patient's behaviour or test results.

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Evaluating patient outcomes

As a senior practitioner on a hospital ward, a registrar may evaluate patient outcomes for medical interns and residents to ensure that the ward's staff has the knowledge and resources to treat their patients successfully. They may read reports about re-admission rates or the average hospital stay length to understand the efficacy of the treatment methods on the ward. If they detect trends in the data, they may examine individual patient records to get more details. This information can help them intervene with specific junior practitioners or inform the hospital's administrator of a larger problem.

What qualifications do registrars have?

Here are the basic qualifications for a hospital registrar in Australia:

Education

Hospital registrars may complete an undergraduate or graduate university program in medicine to become qualified in their field. Often, hospital registrars complete a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree after finishing secondary school. They may return to earn a graduate degree in a specialised field of medicine after completing an internship and gaining experience in a health care facility.

Medical degree programs typically combine classroom study with field learning experiences in clinics, private practices and hospitals. Undergraduate medical degree programs usually last between four and six years, while graduate programs usually last four years.

Related: How Long Does It Take to Become a Doctor? (With Salaries)

Experience

Medical school graduates complete year-long internships after earning their degree, where they can learn about hospital administration and practise their skills under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. These programs typically include 10 weeks of general medical practise, 10 weeks of emergency medicine and 10 weeks of surgery, though the exact curriculum of an internship depends on the facility and the internship director's area of specialty. After completing their program, the intern can become a registered practitioner with the medical board.

Once they've completed the registration process, the candidate can become a medical resident, which is a junior-level doctor in a hospital or other medical facility. Medical residencies typically last one or two years and some residents complete their programs at the same hospital where they did their internship. In a medical residency, the practitioner has more independence than an intern, but still operates under the guidance of a registrar or consultant. At the end of their residency, a practitioner can apply to become a registrar, who may take part-time specialty courses while serving as a hospital doctor.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Medical Internships in Australia

Skills

Medical registrars use a wide range of technical and interpersonal skills in their work. Their medical knowledge allows them to diagnose patients, recommend treatments and perform medical procedures. Since their contracts are typically short, they use their communication and networking skills to build close professional relationships with colleagues at the hospitals where they work, which can help them in their later careers.

Medical registrars use their time management and organisation skills to balance their hospital work with their training requirements. Finally, they use their leadership skills to guide residents and interns in their ward.

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