Healthcare and medicine
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Why study healthcare and medicine in the UK?
‘Drawing on unparalleled experience running the world’s largest national health system and a strong private healthcare sector, the UK offers complete solutions to major healthcare challenges.’ (Gov.uk)
Studying healthcare and medicine in the UK means you’re joining a tradition of academic excellence. The health sector in the UK is globally renowned, and its universities are known for groundbreaking medical research.
Did you know…
- Unlike other countries, you can study medicine as an undergraduate subject in the UK. This means you can start gaining medical knowledge immediately after completing school-leaving qualifications.
- UK universities ensure medical students have regular contact with patients, and learn through real-life cases. The National Health Service (NHS) system means all UK universities have close links with hospitals.
- UK medical graduates have particularly strong job prospects. Just over 92% of graduates are in employment just six months after completing their degree, while over 7% are carrying out further study (Prospects.ac.uk).
- The UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) gives funding to around 3,000 researchers every year – and research funded by the MRC has produced 30 Nobel Prize winners to date.
- UK research papers make up 20% of the world’s research papers with over 1,000 citations, surpassing the US in average research impact (Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch), and researchers in the UK gain more citations per article than anywhere else in the world (BIS, 2011).
- The UK invests heavily in international collaboration – between 10 and 20% of the UK’s science budget goes to international research collaboration, and over 50% of UK PhD students are international students (Universities UK 2008).
- The UK’s NHS is one of the world's largest publicly funded health services. Collaboration between the NHS, commercial healthcare companies and academics has pioneered innovative and high-quality systems of care – and driven international growth (Healthcare UK).
- UK schools, colleges and universities are multicultural – the Medical Schools Council estimates that 10% of trainee doctors come from outside the UK, and international students are given a lot of support. Many study English before or alongside their course, to improve their language skills at the same time.
Courses and qualifications
UK universities and colleges offer training in a wide range of fields, from surgery to nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine and much more. You can choose between degree programmes such as pharmacology, midwifery, dental technology, optometry, podiatry, nutrition, psychology, physiotherapy and radiography. Or how about occupational and speech therapy, acupuncture or homeopathy?
As a student in healthcare, you will have the chance to explore and specialise in different areas. Teaching methods are also varied – you might take part in small group practice, laboratory practicals, ward rounds at hospitals, computer-aided learning and lectures.
Alongside classroom teaching, UK institutions are aware of the changing needs of patients and the medical industry. Courses in medicine combine a hands-on approach to patient care with rigorous theoretical knowledge. Medical students are trained to clinical standards from the start.
At UK schools and colleges, you can study for GCSEs, AS- and A-levels, International Baccalaureate or Scottish Highers in subjects such as Science, Applied Science, Biology, Chemistry, Human Biology, or Health and Social Care. These are academic courses (designed to prepare you for further study at university), but there are also vocational courses (designed to prepare you for a career), such as BTEC Healthcare qualifications. If you’re interested in children’s healthcare and nursing, you could study for the CACHE diploma, awarded by the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education.
In the UK, you can start studying healthcare and medicine courses at undergraduate or postgraduate level. Undergraduate medical courses lead to a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery qualification (this might be abbreviated as MBBS, MBBS/BSc, MB ChB, MB BCh or BMBS, depending on the institution).
Medicine degrees usually last five years, but courses vary in length. Students who already have an undergraduate degree in another subject can join medicine by taking a four-year Graduate Entry Programme (GEP). Others choose to study an intercalated degree, which means studying for an extra year and gaining an additional qualification – this might be a BSc, BMedSci, BA or MMedSec qualification in a subject related to medicine.
The Medical Schools Council lists 33 universities with undergraduate medical degree programmes. You can also check the list of courses accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science. If you want to pursue psychology, the British Psychological Society accredits 389 courses at UK universities and colleges. Regulatory and professional bodies, including the General Medical Council (GMC) and the General Dental Council (GDC) oversee training in these fields.
After completing your undergraduate degree, you can move on to a two-year foundation programme (this is a general medical training programme, which combines work experience with training), and then register with the GMC, which permits you to work in medicine in the UK. Following this, most students go on to three years of general practitioner (GP) training, or between five and eight years of specialist training.
For entry to most medicine and healthcare courses, you’ll need a good grounding in the life sciences. To join an undergraduate degree, you should have a good academic record and A-levels, International Baccalaureate or equivalent qualifications in relevant science subjects. To study medicine, most universities require you to have studied chemistry, and some require biology.
If you are applying for a degree in medicine or dentistry, some institutions require you to take the BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) or UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) before submitting your university application.
If you don’t have A-level, International Baccalaureate or equivalent qualifications in science subjects, some universities offer a one-year, pre-medical course that covers chemistry, physics and biology. There are also a small number of access courses that lead into a medical degree.
You may need to attend an interview as part of your application. If English isn’t your first language, many courses will also ask for evidence of your English language skills, such as an IELTS or equivalent qualification.
All schools, colleges and universities have different entry requirements, so make sure you read the course details thoroughly and ask your chosen institution directly if you have any questions.
Healthcare and medicine courses in the UK are designed to give you the practical, professional and personal skills required to work in the industry – in the UK, in your home country, or anywhere else in the world. (If you plan to work as a doctor, check what qualifications are required to register in the country where you will be working.)
Many students go on to become doctors – commonly general practice doctors (GPs) or hospital doctors – but there are many other jobs to consider, such as researcher, nurse, geneticist, pharmacist, occupational therapist, international aid or development worker, consultant or science writer. For anyone considering a career in medicine, the NHS website’s Medical careers section has a lot of advice.
For scientific research opportunities, you can find funding, jobs and research placements, in the UK and Europe, at Euraxess UK. You can also find funding opportunities and invitations for proposals at the Medical Research Council.
For more advice about choosing and applying for jobs, go to Entering a career.
Rashi Sharma, from Kenya, trained as a doctor at the University of Manchester’s medical school – and worked at Manchester Royal Infirmary while studying for her degree. Follow her story here:
Francesco Egro, from Italy, is a medical student at the University of Bristol. Watch his video diary here:
Nur Aizaan Anwar, from Malaysia, studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen's Institute of Medical Sciences, in Scotland:
Sabrina Bhundoo from Mauritius studied at Nottingham Trent University, and has been working at care homes for the elderly and people with disabilities: