Going to the doctor’s in English (and how the system works)

Going to the doctor’s in English (and how the system works)

by Laura Jones

Updated November 10, 2022

Have you ever felt ill while abroad? Feeling sick is never fun, but when you’re away from home and you have to go to a doctor and speak in a different language, it can be much more stressful. Here we’re going to have a look at what it’s like to go to the doctor’s in the UK and how you can explain how you’re feeling.

Doctors and surgeries

When you hear someone say, “I’m going to the doctor’s” in English, they almost always mean they are going to see their GP. A GP is a General Practitioner and is the first point of contact if you’re feeling unwell. They can refer you to a specialist if they think it’s necessary. The place you go is called a surgery or a practice – they mean the same thing, and we can think of them as a doctor’s office. Most practices in the UK also have a practice nurse who provides care alongside the doctor. 

Registering for a GP in the UK

If you move to the UK, you should register with a GP. You should choose a practice in your local area, but you have the right to choose your GP based on your needs. The easiest way to register is to go to the practice and fill in a registration form. You don’t need to show your ID, but it will be helpful if you have it. It’s free to register with a GP. 

Your appointment at the doctor’s

The first thing you have to do if you want to go to the doctor’s is make an appointment. You can do that by calling or using a website or an application; you will be able to choose a time and day that is convenient for you. When you go to the doctor’s, you will wait in the waiting room. The doctor will call you through to their office, ask you about your symptoms and about any allergies you have. Then, they make a diagnosis if they can. If you need some medicine, they will write you a prescription and tell you the dose you should take, for example, one tablet every 4 hours. You can take that prescription to a chemist and they will fill it – give you the medicine. 

Common symptoms in English


An ache is a continuous pain, which is not very strong. We use the word together with certain body parts, the most common ones are: stomach ache, headache, earache and backache. Toothache is also common, but if you have toothache you need a dentist, not a doctor! Check the pronunciation on the word ache – it’s a funny one. 

Other common symptoms

If your throat hurts, you can say that you have a sore throat. If you are sneezing and your nose is blocked, you might have a cold. Having a temperature means that your body temperature is higher than normal, and a fever means your temperature is quite a bit higher than normal. If you have a cough, a fever and a sore throat, you might have flu. Some people also vomit when they have flu, but vomiting can be caused by lots of different things. You might also go to the doctor if you have a rash – usually a lot of small red spots on your skin. If your rash is itchy, the doctor will prescribe some cream. 

Conversations with a GP in English

Doctor: Good morning, Tom. How are you feeling today?

Tom: Terrible! I’ve got a fever and a bad headache. 

Doctor: I’m going to take your temperature… oh yes, it is a bit high. Have you had any vomiting? 

Tom: No, thankfully. But I’ve got a blocked nose. Is it flu?!

Doctor: I don’t think it’s flu. I think it’s just a bad cold. I prescribe bed rest and some paracetamol. Come back if you’re not feeling better in a couple of days. 

Doctor: Jane, what brings you here today?

Jane: I’ve got earache – it really is quite painful. I’ve had it for 4 days now.

Doctor: I’m just going to look inside your ear… Ah, it looks like an infection – 4 days is a long time. Is there anything else bothering you?

Jane: I’ve got a bit of a sore throat. 

Doctor: Let me have a look. Open wide! Well poor you, Jane. I’m going to prescribe you some antibiotic ear drops. Twice a day for 5 days and you should feel better. 

Jane: Thank you so much! I’ll go to the chemist now.

Now you’re ready to go book an appointment. Don’t be scared – remember health professionals are there to help you!

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