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Pathways to Medicine in the UK

Updated: Jul 15, 2021


So, you want to study Medicine in the UK. As international students, most applicants are only aware of the Standard Entry Medicine pathway. But did you know that there are other pathways to study Medicine in the UK?


There are 3 main pathways international students can go into for Medicine in the UK:


Competition is stiff and the application processes are difficult for all three but it is important that you are aware of them so you can choose the one most suited for you.


In this blog post, we discuss each pathway and which you can choose given your circumstance.


*Note that for international students all 3 pathways are limited by the small number of places medical schools can offer to international students. Competition is tough but may vary depending on which university and pathway you choose.


Standard Entry Medicine

For applicants who are currently in high-school/college*, Standard Entry Medicine programmes are the most suitable as they allow students to apply with high-school/college qualifications or exam results.


UK medical schools tend to accept qualifications equivalent to the A-levels. For example, if you have taken either the IB or Scottish Highers/Nationals, those will be accepted in place of A-levels.


However, some overseas qualifications are not accepted. For example, medical schools do not accept the Myanmar national examination results nor the American AP diploma. So, make sure to check whether your desired medical school will accept your country’s qualifications! If not, you might have to apply to Medicine with a Foundation Year.


Most Standard Entry Medicine programmes are 5 years long and at the end of the program you will be awarded a medical degree – usually a MBBS or MBChB. Some medical schools require students to take a compulsory intercalated degree in their Standard Entry Program, adding another year to the 5. In these 6-year programmes, you will graduate with a medical degree and a degree in the course that you intercalated in (for example, MBBS + BSc).


*In the UK, college refers to high-school and is a time where students study and sit for the A-levels at the age of 18/19. The term college used throughout this blog is not equivalent to university.


Application Process for Standard Entry Medicine

You will apply for Standard Entry Medicine using your high school/college qualifications through UCAS. This refers to the Universities and College Admissions Service, an online portal that receives all applications to UK universities.


If you have already sat your exams, you will apply with your exam results. If you have yet to sit your exams, you will apply with your predicted grades. (Predicted grades are grades given by your school which are an estimate of your exam performance.)


You will also have to sit an aptitude test required by medical schools (the UCAT/BMAT) and include a personal statement in your application. For international students, you will also need to prove your English proficiency by taking tests such as IELTS.


Each medical school has its own requirements for each component of the application so you need to research what you need in order to get into Standard Entry Medicine.


After you put in your UCAS application, medical schools will invite you for an interview if you have made it through the early rounds of selection. After the interview, you will then be notified whether you have been accepted. (Interviews usually take place between January and March, depending on medical school.)


If you applied with your exam results, and get accepted, you will be given an unconditional offer meaning that your place is secured. If you applied with predicted grades, you will be given a conditional offer which means that you will secure your place given that you achieve the required grades when you sit your exams. If you do not get the required grades, your offer will most likely be retracted.


Pros & Cons of Standard Entry Medicine


Pros:

  1. Standard Entry Medicine will be the most straightforward way into Medicine if you are applying after high school/college.

  2. Out of all the pathways to Medicine, this will be the one where you can get a medical degree in the shortest amount of time. This is because it is only 5/6 years compared to Medicine with a Foundation Year (6/7 years) and to GEM (minimum 7 years including time for the undergraduate degree).

  3. Almost all medical schools in the UK offer Standard Entry Medicine to international students so you will have more medical schools to choose from if you choose this pathway.

Cons:

  1. If you apply to SEM as a graduate, you go through an additional year of medical school compared to going into GEM.

Medicine with a Foundation Year

Medicine with a Foundation Year is a programme for those who do not have the qualifications accepted by medical schools. It is also for applicants who did not take the required subjects for Medicine such as Biology and Chemistry at high school/college.


(The subjects required by medical schools vary by each school but they mostly want students to have taken Biology and Chemistry or Maths. Some schools require international students to have taken an English subject such as English language/literature.)


Medicine with a Foundation Year consists of 1 foundation year + 5/6 years for Medicine. The purpose of the foundation year is to prepare you before Medicine and equip you with relevant knowledge to succeed in your medical studies.


During your foundation year, you might learn sciences such as Biology and Chemistry. This is suitable for students who have not taken these subjects at high school/college and for international applicants who may feel that they are not prepared to go straight into Medicine in the UK.


Note that there is a very limited number of medical schools that offer Medicine with a Foundation Year to international students and places will be very limited. Make sure your chosen medical schools will accept you into their Medicine with a Foundation Year program if you are an international student before you apply.


If your chosen medical school won’t accept you to this programme and you don’t have the required qualifications to go into Standard Entry Medicine, you need to get in touch with the schools and ask if they are willing to accept you into their regular/international foundation programme. (These are not affiliated with Medicine.)


The regular foundation programme is a 1 year or shorter programme in which students are taught UK A-level equivalent material so that after they graduate, they can go into an undergraduate programme of their choice in the UK (not just Medicine).


If you are planning to do Medicine after a regular foundation programme, it is important that you ask the university whether you can apply for Medicine after you complete this. There may also be different pathways in the regular foundation programme itself so make sure you research which pathway you have to take to apply for Medicine afterwards. We don’t know if some universities will accept students from a regular foundation programme into Medicine since we didn’t apply via this pathway so please make sure you contact the universities yourself!


Application Processes for Medicine with a Foundation Year & Regular Foundation Year

The application process for Medicine with a Foundation Year is the same as Standard Entry Medicine. You will need your high school/college exam results or predicted grades, UCAT/BMAT scores, and English Proficiency test. You will also be required to sit an interview if you are shortlisted. The offers given after interviews will also be either unconditional or conditional depending on whether you applied with achieved/predicted grades just like Standard Entry Medicine.


The only thing that may differ to Standard Entry Medicine is that the required subjects you need to have taken in your high-school/college are more flexible and not just limited to Biology, Chemistry, Maths etc. The grades/exam scores required for Medicine with a Foundation Year are also slightly lower than Standard Entry Medicine.


The application process for a regular foundation programme will vary significantly from Medicine with a Foundation Year. You will apply with your high-school/college qualification or a transcript from your country. Depending on the pathway that you choose within the regular foundation programme, the universities also might require you to have taken certain subjects during high school/college. An English proficiency test will also be needed. Since this pathway is not affiliated with Medicine you will probably be not asked to sit the UCAT/BMAT before applying.


Pros & Cons of Medicine with a Foundation Year


Pros:

  1. Good for students who want to have a solid foundation in the sciences or students who want to feel prepared before starting medical school

  2. Allow some flexibility with the subjects you take in high school/college as compared to Standard Entry Medicine

Cons:

  1. Very few medical schools offer this to international students so students will have a very limited number of schools to choose from and apply to. There is also very intense competition.

  2. We personally would not recommend Medicine with a Foundation Year programme to international students since choices are very limited. Our advice is to contact the universities ASAP if you are considering this pathway. The universities’ admissions officers will tell you whether you should go for this programme or the regular foundation programme and point you to the best pathway to take!

Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM)

Applicants who are currently doing a university degree/have already graduated can apply for GEM.


GEM courses are accelerated: the course content is compressed into 4 years instead of the standard 5 or 6 years. Therefore, GEM is likely to be a lot more fast-paced and intense than Standard Entry Medicine.


The option of applying for Standard Entry Medicine instead of GEM is also available for graduates who may prefer that in some medical schools. For this, the application process is similar to students who apply out of high-school/college. However, universities may ask graduates to apply with the results of their undergraduate degree instead of high school/college exam results.


Application Process for Graduate Entry Medicine

The application process for GEM is the same as for Standard Entry Medicine. However, you may have to take a different aptitude test (the GAMSAT) and apply with the results from your degree.


Pros and Cons of GEM


Pros:

  1. You complete the medical degree in a shorter period of time.

Cons:

  1. The course is accelerated, meaning that you’ll have to learn everything in a shorter amount of time which can be very stressful!

  2. There appears to be less support and information available online for GEM applications. It seems to be much easier to find information on Standard Entry Medicine compared to Graduate Entry Medicine but this is starting to change as more medics in GEM have started sharing their experiences on social media.

Conclusion

We’ve discussed the 3 different pathways international students can take to go into Medicine, including the application processes and pros and cons of each. We would like to sum it up by saying that since you are the person applying, you should do your own research about each pathway and get in touch with the universities if you have any doubts.


This post is intended to guide you when you are just starting to consider your options; it is important that you don’t solely rely on information provided by others.


With that being said, we hope this was helpful in some way and best of luck with your applications! In the near future, we will be making a list of all the UK medical schools, specific entry requirements for each of them, and the timeline for the application so make sure you follow our Instagram or blog to stay in the loop!

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