How Long is a Medicine Degree in the UK?

In Career, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Along with dentistry and law, medicine ranks amongst one of the hardest and longest degree programmes offered by universities. An extensive knowledge of physiology, pharmacology, psychology and other areas of human biology is required to become a qualified doctor. For example, a doctor must know the names of hundreds of different diseases. They should be able to recognise the symptoms and treatments associated with each. This ensures that their patient will receive the best possible care. This is why medicine degrees take a long time to complete.

According to the General Medical Council (GMC), a standard medicine degree will take 5 years to complete. However, this length may vary depending on the institution you chose to study at. The University of Glasgow offers a 5-year medicine degree. On the other hand, Imperial College London offers a medicine degree taking 6 years to complete. As part of the course, the university may want you to complete a placement or research year. It is important to note the degree does not mark the end of study for a doctor. You must complete a few more years to start learning to specialise.

Read on to find out how long a medical degree can take to study, what could potentially make the degree longer and more information about studying medicine in general.

How long does it take to get a graduate degree in medicine?

Most medicine degrees across the UK will take roughly 5 years to complete. However, they can be as short as 4 years or as long as 7 years in total.

It is important to remember that this usually applies to undergraduate medicine degrees. Medicine is not an easy degree to get into at undergraduate level. Leeds Medical School has an acceptance rate of just 15%. St George’s has an even lower acceptance rate of just 6.7%. Check out this website for a list of acceptance rates for medical schools across the UK.

There are a series of processes and requirements make getting accepted to a medicine course so difficult. Check out this article from Think Student to learn more about the difficulties you may face when applying for a medicine degree.

Can you shorten the time required to take a medicine degree?

It is not uncommon for qualified doctors to have completed a graduate medicine degree rather than an undergraduate. This programme is accelerated so it can be completed within 4 years but is only offered to current degree-holders.

This means that in addition to the 3-year bachelor’s degree, you will then complete a 4-year medicine degree on top. This adds up to be roughly seven years, only two years more than undergraduate medicine degree.

Taking a graduate medicine degree has less competition because most students do not want to increase the length of their degree. However, it still takes a fair amount of work to get onto the graduate route.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to taking a graduate medicine degree. One disadvantage is that you lose a year of the standard medicine degree. This means that the same volume of material will be crammed into a shorter time period. As medicine is already regarded as a difficult degree, the accelerated programme can be extremely challenging at times.

However, as you will be older by the time you begin the medicine pathway, you will be much more mature than an undergraduate medicine student. This added experience could make your degree easier to manage.

If you want to learn more about graduate medicine degrees, check out the University of Nottingham’s graduate course as one example here.

What is an intercalated degree?

Many students spend their whole lives preparing for medicine. This is due to the intense selectiveness of the degree programs. The competition isn’t just to get onto the degree programme, but also when applying for junior training programmes and eventually jobs in the industry.

Lots of medical schools will offer you the chance to study an intercalated degree in the middle of an undergraduate medicine degree. Choosing to do this will extend your studies by one year.

An intercalated degree is a when a student takes a year out from medicine to pursue a completely different degree. You could choose to study a research-related subject in the speciality you want to pursue. Alternatively, you could take a humanities-oriented subject such as medical ethics.

You are not limited to just a BSc or BA degree either. You might choose to complete a masters. However, this can only be completed after three or more years of medicine. Of course, this is much more intensive than a bachelor’s course.

Many students will be put off by intercalated degrees due to the increased debt. However, some students choose to intercalate to improve their chances of landing a job. Some skills, such as writing research papers, are only briefly covered in a medicine degree. This is because the primary content of the degree is knowledge-based.

Taking an intercalated degree can show your dedication to the speciality. You will be studying it at a higher level than you would in a medicine degree. Check out this link to for a list of intercalated degrees available to medical students.

What does an undergraduate medicine degree consist of?

Most medicine degrees in the UK follow a very similar syllabus. The standard five-year medicine degree is separated into two categories: pre-clinical and clinical work. Pre-clinical work is usually covered in the first two years of the degree whereas clinical work forms the back three years. Both parts are equally important in order to become a good doctor.

During pre-clinical studies, you will cover the basics that are needed to establish a comprehensive understanding of medical science. Completing this will help prepare you for the clinical section. Clinical medicine mainly covers how to interact with patients, although elements of topics such as molecular pathology are sometimes also included.

The clinical side of your degree will allow you to hone your doctoring skills as it involves interacting with real patients. Clinical work aims to prepare you for the foundation training you must complete after graduating. Your clinical studies usually start with a rotation in a hospital so you can develop your diagnosis, examination and communication skills.

As you progress further into your degree, you will be able to engage in more specialised clinical areas. These areas can include paediatrics, dermatology, neurology and many more. You may be particularly fortunate and be able to spend some of these years abroad.

Check out this link to the BMA website for an idea of the types of modules you might encounter during your medicine degree. 

Can you practise medicine after completing a medicine degree?

After you graduate, you can officially be called a doctor, but you will not yet have a licence. Unfortunately, you must have a licence to officially practise medicine in the UK. This licence is what allows doctors to prescribe medication, sign death certificates and assess a patient’s health.  Unregistered medical practice is a crime and can have severe consequences.

After a medicine degree you are expected to complete a two-year foundation training programme. During this programme, you are given a provisional licence, which you need to be allowed to complete the first year of training. After completing the first year successfully, you will be able to obtain an official licence to practise medicine. 

Even after you get a licence there will still be limitations as to what you can do. Training as a doctor continues throughout your career and many years are needed to specialise. To see the full journey to becoming a specialised doctor, check out this article from Think Student.

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of what a medicine degree consists of and how long it takes. The path to becoming a doctor is not an easy one but is certainly rewarding. Just make sure you research medicine both as a degree and a field to be certain it is the right path for you.

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