Dr Chitra Meyyappan • August 26, 2019
Dr Chitra is originally from Canada and came to the UK to study medicine at The University of Birmingham. She is currently working as a GP Trainee
Every year many international students choose to come to the UK to study Medicine. Deciding where you are going to attain your medical education can be overwhelming and confusing. It is likely one of the biggest life decisions most of you would have to make at this stage in your life.
I am a Canadian myself who came to study Medicine in the UK. My inspiration to study abroad stemmed from listening to a speaker at a career talk hosted by my local hospital. The speaker was a Canadian student who shared his incredible experience of studying Medicine in Ireland. Becoming a doctor was a passion of mine from a very young age. I had planned to apply for medical school in Canada, but this talk opened my mind to opportunities beyond Canada.
Needless to say, there is a lot to consider before deciding to undertake your medical studies abroad. In this blog, I will be sharing a few of the major pros and cons for studying abroad that I considered before choosing to apply to medical schools in the UK. My experience will be particularly useful for high school students in North America considering medical education in European universities.
Pro: In Canada, students have to do a compulsory 4 year undergraduate degree, then complete the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) in order to be eligible to apply for graduate entry medical courses. Medicine is one of the most competitive fields in Canada. Chances of successfully being admitted into a Medicine program despite exceptional grades, CV and MCAT scores is very slim.
Personally, the assurance of becoming a doctor by getting into medical school straight after high school was the biggest advantage of studying in the UK compared to Canada.
Tip: Since you can apply to UK medical universities directly from high school (October of grade 12 year), make sure to fulfil all relevant prerequisites, volunteer experiences and entrance exams during high school (usually during grades 9-11 before university application season). I recommend doing your research early in order to choose the correct courses and to allow ample time to prepare for any entrance exams. Check out this blog post here for a comprehensive timeline.
Con:For some people, deciding to pursue Medicine at the age of 17 can be a huge deal. My advice is if you are not 100% certain of a career in Medicine, do not apply for medical schools abroad - the implications are much higher if you discontinue your studies.
Pro:It takes 8 years after high school (4 years undergraduate degree plus 4 years Medical school) to get a medical degree in Canada. Whereas in the UK, it only takes 5-6 years to become a doctor after high school.
Con: Doctors in both countries have to complete residency programs to further specialise in an area of Medicine. Residency in the UK is a much longer process compared to Canada. Here, every doctor is required to complete a two-year Foundation programme followed by 3 – 8 years of further training to become a specialist. In Canada, residency is shorter and varies between 2-5 years.
Hence, although it is quicker to become a doctor in the UK, it takes approximately the same length of time to complete all medical training (including residency) in both countries.
Con:Tuition Fees for international students, particularly during clinical years (years 3-5) of medical school can be very expensive. In addition to the tuition fees, there are other expenses: living costs, flight journeys and cost of additional exams such as MCCEE/ USMLE (exams required if you wish to return to North America to practice Medicine).
Tip: There are several finance options available. Contact the University’s Student Finance department to find out what bursaries/ scholarships are available to international students. In Canada, there are government funded national student loans (e.g. OSAP in Ontario) and Medical School line of credits by private banks.
Pros: Although you will be paying international fees for 5 years, it sums up to only slightly more expensive than the costs associated with completing two degrees in Canada plus living expenses for 8 years. Also, as it only takes 5 years to become a doctor in the UK, you will start earning sooner compared to fellow medical students in Canada.
Pros:Medicine in both countries are taught in English. Majority of the medical schools in the UK have been around for several decades and hence provide world class education.
Living in the UK has been an exciting experience for me. There is a lot of culture and history here, and in general in Europe. It is easy to settle in as people are very welcoming. There were about 8-10 Canadian students in my cohort studying at University of Birmingham which shows how popular the UK is for Medical school.
I have also learnt from living and studying here to work hard and play hard. It is common for people here to go on holidays and city breaks nearby. I have been spoilt for choice with the number of beautiful European countries that are a cheap and short flight away from England!
Cons:Despite Facetime/WhatsApp/ Skype, living thousands of miles away from home can be very difficult. It was particularly hard in first year when the local students often went home for weekends and came back with clean clothes and packed food! Whereas, I would have to wait for term break to fly back home. This experience made me more resilient and I formed very close bonds with my friends who became my family away from actual family.
Another disadvantage of moving to the UK is students need to come on a Tier 4 Student visa for their Medical school programme. This is straightforward to get once you have a university offer. However, when it comes time to apply for specialist training in the UK, students need to switch to a work visa. The visa rules keep changing with little notice. Hence, although it is currently easy to get a visa for the entire training period, it is difficult to be certain of what the situation will be like in 5 years.
Pro:With a medical degree in the UK, students can start working as a doctor by commencing the Foundation Programme. After one year of foundation training, doctors will get their full license to practice in the UK by the General Medical Council. Following this, international doctors with UK degree can apply to any specialty training program along with fellow British students. Hence, studying Medicine in the UK is a good option considering good local job prospects.
A UK medical degree is also recognised globally to teach Medicine and hence opens doors to various possibilities including returning to home country for residency and future career.
Currently, UK graduates can apply to Canadian residency programmes via CARMS once they have completed required exams. These exams can be done whilst in latter part of medical school in time for application season in final year.
Alternatively, certain speciality training from the UK (such as MRCGP) are recognised in Canada. This allows UK doctors from certain specialities to work in Canada without having to repeat residency. They do however need to complete the qualifying exams which can be done after commencing work in Canada.
Con: Not all UK specialty training are currently recognised in Canada. Hence you may need to do residency in Canada if you would like to work there. Matching into a residency via CARMS is very competitive. It is even more competitive for specialties like surgery and dermatology. Hence, it is important to bare this in mind if you are determined to return to Canada post-graduation.
Returning home to practice Medicine also means more exams, money and potentially time.
Choosing where to study Medicine can be a daunting task. I hope this post has given you some tips on what factors to consider. Now, create your own pros and cons list, speak to family and teachers for their advice, do PLENTY of research and finally prioritise what is important for you. My best advice is only apply to a medical school abroad if you are determined to become a doctor. You may have to make some compromises, but it will be well worth it in the end!
Good luck and don’t forget to email us firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like some help with your application!
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