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To intercalate or Not to Intercalate

This year, I have been able to take a year out of my medical degree to complete my intercalated degree.


The majority of medical schools in the UK offer students the opportunity to take a year out from their medical studies in order to pursue another degree. Depending on the medical school you intercalate at, you can get a BSc, BA or even a MSc. Some students may continue their studies to complete a PhD before returning to their medical degree.

Intercalation allows you to obtain deeper knowledge into an aspect of medicine that you are interested in such as neuroscience, endocrinology, sport sciences or psychology. It also lets you gain an insight into the world of research and in some cases, it can give you an opportunity to learn about a different part of medicine that is not really touched upon in medical school such as medical management. Some even offer the chance of completing part, if not all, of the degree abroad, thereby allowing you to see how medicine and medical research is taught in other countries.


There are many pros and cons associated with intercalation. The advantages include developing research skills, gaining specialised knowledge that may or may not help in choosing your future speciality, and opportunities for publications and conferences. Intercalating also gives students a chance to dedicate more time to other interests and extracurricular activities and gives some the much needed break they need in the middle of their degree as most students find the workload a lot less intense in comparison to their Medicine degree. But the main advantage in intercalating is that you can gain up to 5 additional points for your FPAS application. (This is the application you do in your final year of medicine that decides where you will be placed for Foundation Training in the UK).


Nevertheless, there are disadvantages to intercalating. It is another year of studying so that increases the already very long 5-year medical degree to 6 years (and if you choose to do a PhD afterwards, then it is even longer). This means another year of lectures, another year of exams and another year before you are a doctor. Spending another year at university brings with it extra costs, this a big consideration for some. And if intercalating is not a compulsory part of your medical school, it means leaving your friends behind and entering the year below when you return to complete your medical degree.


My university offers 14 different intercalated BScs as well as allowing us to intercalate externally at other universities. For me, I decided to intercalate in Medical Sciences with Haematology. This focuses specifically on blood and its associated disorders. The various modules include haemostasis and thrombosis, leukaemia and lymphoma as well as red cells and their disorders. There have been ups and downs but overall, I have enjoyed it so far. I have learnt a lot of information in a short time, been taught by some of the top experts in the world and I have made a lot of new friends.


My advice to anyone who is thinking of intercalating is to choose a degree that you are generally interested in as intercalated degrees can be very intense at times and can really test your abilities. Also try and find someone who has intercalated at your university and ask them how they have found it, this will give you a realistic perspective of what intercalating is like. If you know what you would like to specialise in as a doctor, find a doctor in that speciality and ask them if intercalating is necessary to put at an advantage when pursuing a career in that particular field.

Despite this, intercalation can offer new opportunities and experiences, as well as allow you to develop new skills that can help you in your future career.

Written by Nadia Ibrahim📷

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