If you are a graduate student considering applying to medicine, one of the very first and most important questions you need to ask yourself is whether you want to apply for graduate entry or undergraduate medicine. While the knowledge, skills and qualifications medical students will obtain from both programmes will be the same, the process of getting from a medical school applicant to a foundation year doctor could be vastly different between the two. There is no right or wrong choice, the two programmes can offer different incentives for graduate students to prefer one over the other and you need to be able to assess which of the two would be a better fit for you. We have listed some common pros and cons of both graduate entry and undergraduate medicine, so have a read below to help make your decision.
The graduate entry medicine programme is a 4 year course in comparison to 5 or even 6 years for its undergraduate counterpart. If you have been working for a while and are coming back to uni from a long hiatus, you might be interested in a pursuing a shorter programme. While for the majority of cases this is not the most important factor to consider if you will be studying medicine, all other things being equal, for somebody in their late 20s who may have already had a career or have made a family with an established routine, getting as fast to clinical practice and registration with the General Medical Council as possible might be a priority. In that case, it would be worth looking into graduate entry medicine.
Funding can be a tricky factor to navigate when you make your decision because it largely depends on where you come from and where you are interested in applying. If you are a home student looking to pursue graduate entry medicine in England you can apply for a tuition fee loan from Student Finance England that will cover the majority of your tuition during your studies, with the NHS covering the most of the rest. Graduate entry medicine students can also apply for maintenance loans which can further cover their living costs.
It is often the case that undergraduate medicine programmes open to graduate students have to implement an initial period of time, where basic concepts are reiterated again, in order to make sure that the level between graduate and undergraduate students is equalised and everyone has the same skills to tackle the material that follows. This by default is not needed in GEM programmes, as all students are expected to have the same basic knowledge and skills, with the occasional exception of programmes open to accepting non-scientific first degrees. It can be understandable that if you have done a previous degree in a core science like biochemistry or hold a PhD, that you would find such an initial stage unnecessary and might want to prefer applying for graduate entry medicine instead.
While medical school is already extremely competitive, it might just be even more so for graduate entry medicine. Remember that while everyone who’s applying to this programme already has at least one other degree, many candidates will have also gone on to do PhDs or might be practicing nurses, paramedics or pharmacists. While that is not necessarily the golden ticket to success when it comes to applying to GEM and you could be the most impressive candidate on interview day having worked in film or applying straight out of your science degree, it is important to consider what the standard expected by assessors is. You will be expected to show a very high level of maturity and understanding of why you want to study medicine, whether that has always been your goal or has been a recent major career switch.
Once again, many of the applicants might already have plenty of clinical skills due to the nature of their previous degree and/or job, so gaining work experience in a teaching hospital, general practice or a care home could be of essence in terms of boosting your application. Other things to consider when applying to GEM is that not all programmes accept non-scientific degrees, so if you have done law or arts, you want to be careful which universities you apply to.
While GEM is a shorter programme, the other side of the coin is that it is inevitably more rigorous and comes in the form of increased course load. Often graduate students are expected to cover two years’ worth of material in their first year, whereas other programmes have equally distributed that workload across the 4 years, making each year slightly more difficult than its corresponding year in undergraduate medicine. While that is not a negative in itself and there will still be enough opportunities to socialise and join sports and clubs, you might want to consider what it is that you want to get out of your medical school experience before you make a decision.
While all schools of medicine in the UK offer the standard undergraduate medicine programme, GEM is not as widespread. In fact, until recently Scotland did not offer graduate entry programmes and all graduates wishing to study there had to apply to the standard 5-year course. Furthermore, these programmes are usually a lot smaller than their undergraduate counterpart, making the ratio of applicants per spot is much higher and thus, acceptance rate - a lot lower.
The class size and homogeneity is an important point to mention, that for some might be a benefit, while for others - a drawback, when considering graduate entry medicine. GEM programmes are usually a lot smaller and by default only accept candidates with at least one previous degree, making everyone in the class at least in their early 20s. While that might be a welcoming thought to some, others might prefer a bit more diversity and a bigger class to socialise with, so consider carefully the programmes you are interested in applying and how they compare to your personal preference.
As already mentioned above, there is a wider range of options when it comes to undergraduate medicine, with more schools offering the programme and larger classes to accommodate more students. Having so many programmes available also means that there will be a greater degree of variety between them, so you can have your pick depending on academic and social factors that might influence your decision - if you are particularly interested in programmes that offer early clinical exposure or teach anatomy in the form of full body dissection. With so many undergraduate medicine programmes to choose from, it is guaranteed that you would be able to find something to match your needs.
While “easy” is not in the vocabulary of anyone pursuing medicine, if you compare the entry requirements for graduates in undergraduate medicine to those in GEM, you could argue that undergraduate medicine is considered slightly less competitive for a graduate student. While you still have to pull all the stops with high grades, compelling personal statement and competitive admissions exam scores, as a graduate applying together with final year students, your work and life experience might boost your application considerably. Do keep in mind, however, that being a graduate is not a direct entry pass to undergraduate medicine and while there is considered to be slightly less of a competition to gain a spot, you are going to be assessed at a higher standard and will have to show qualities expected of a mature candidate.
In many medical schools, the undergraduate programme is the main, often only, programme teaching medicine, and as such, it accommodates a huge amount of students every year, often in the range of hundreds. As such, you can expect to meet a huge diversity of people across all ages, nationalities and backgrounds. Having a bigger class could also sometimes be linked to wider opportunities to learn and/or socialise.
Unlike GEM, which is funded jointly by Student Finance England and the NHS, entering undergraduate medicine would mean that you need to look at other financial options, often in the forms of bursaries, independent loans, working part- or full-time for a while and self-funding, which for some could be an added strain when considering which programme to apply for.
Of course this largely depends on where you come from and where you are interested in applying. While the undergraduate degree is largely not funded by student finance companies, if you are a Scottish, Welsh or Irish applicant or come from the EU, pursuing your degree in Scotland could be a very viable option, as tuition fees are a lot lower there.
While not true for all undergraduate programmes, it isn’t uncommon for your first two years to be largely based on lectures and seminars, with little practical exposure. This statement can vary a lot from medical school to medical school, and while some programmes do try and ensure that you visit a hospital or a general practice roughly once a month to practice clinical skills and meet patients, others are purely focused on theory and only move on to teach practical skills and send you to placements in later years. For someone with a previous degree who might already have tons of practical skills, this could be a drawback, so consider carefully what type of programme would best suit your learning habits.
Being a graduate student in an undergraduate course will likely mean that you have more life experience and maturity than many of your classmates. This is not necessarily a bad thing at all, but you would have to be careful and practice diplomacy in situations where you might have more knowledge on a certain topic or a more mature viewpoint on a particular case. After all, you have been where your classmates are once, too! Such situations may sometimes create the risk of dividing the class between graduates and undergraduates, and while it’s always nice to have a tight-knit group of friends that you can hang out with in your free time, you don’t want to introduce hostility based on a stereotype of “immature” undergrads and “know-it-all” grads.
Be wary that not all undergraduate programmes are equally accommodating to graduate students. When I was going through the application cycle, I only applied for undergraduate courses and the difference between programmes in terms of numbers of spots reserved for graduate students was colossal. While one university only offered 8 spots in total for graduates on their 5-year programme, another, where I ultimately ended up, is famous for setting aside over 20% of its places for graduate students, meaning that I am now one of the 50+ graduates in my course, making our class a lot more diverse and exciting. Depending on the school you apply to, these numbers could be a positive or a negative, so make sure you do your research well.
Please note that at the end of the day, this is a very personal decision and what works for you may not work for the next person. Your priorities are the most important factor to consider when deciding which programme to apply for. If you’ve weighed all pros and cons and still have doubts between different programmes, it is always a good idea to visit potential schools during their open days, get a feel of the programme and speak to current students, who might be able to give you some more insight into the experience of pursuing medicine in that particular institution. For detailed guidelines on particular medical schools' entry requirements, you can also have a look at the Medical School Council's Entry Requirements for UK medical schools.
We hope that these tips were helpful in making your decision easier and if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask us any questions at hello@theMSAG.com.
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