Studying medicine abroad: lost in translation?

Studying medicine or dentistry abroad has become a popular choice in recent years. Every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to have an opinion on the subject. The truth is that it completely depends on you - for some, it will be a terrifying proposition, but others will see it as the adventure of a lifetime!


The proposition of studying abroad can be incredibly daunting and this is why we’re here to help! This blog will give you an insight into some of the challenges and some of the unique opportunities that come with this decision. However, if at any point you would like further information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at theMSAG and one of our guides will be more than happy to help.

Reality check

Let’s face it, most UK residents who choose to study abroad, do so after they have tried to gain admission to a UK university. That was certainly the reason I considered it. It is often a taboo subject, but with hundreds of students choosing this route every year, I think it’s about time we talk about it and ended the stigma surrounding it.

However, before we even get that far, there are a few things you to consider first if you haven’t managed to get in on the first attempt. After all, not everybody passes their driving test first time around…

Gap years: scene 1, take 1

My gap year was great. I traveled, made lifelong friends and had experiences which will be with me forever. It meant that I went into university with more life experience than a lot of my peers. The point that bothers most people is whether taking an extra year to become a doctor will really bother you in the long run. Let’s break it down:

  • It will take you at least 5 years at medical school to become a doctor (on average)
  • Another 10 years to become a consultant (roughly)
  • Then another 30-40 years of the blood sweat and tears required to save lives on a daily basis

So a the end of it all, 1 year seems like a drop in the ocean. The way you spend this year is the critical part. You could spend this year boosting your application, re-hashing your personal statement, gaining some work experience and then reapplying to medical school….and getting in. I guarantee you’ll also be able to have some fun while you’re at it, maybe even do some travelling if you’re lucky.


Of course, we here at the MSAG are on standby to help you at any point through this reapplication process and if you have any further questions, feel free to contact theMSAG.

If, after reading the above your heart is no longer pounding, and you think a gap year is a good idea, I think my job here is done... However if not … read on.

Gap years: scene 1, take...2?

Maybe you are in the situation where you have already taken a gap year. In this case, that drop in the ocean analogy is starting to run dry….see what I did there? Taking a second gap year isn’t the end of the world, but many people may hesitate to do this. You really do need to show that you’ve done something productive in order for universities to see you as a viable candidate. So what are the alternatives?

You could study a different degree and apply as a graduate. You’ll be a stronger candidate, a more well-rounded person and then there’s the whole going to university, making friends and having the time of your life aspect. However, competition for graduate places in medical school is fierce, more so than undergraduate medicine. After completing a grueling degree and dissertation at university you may be less Rocky – Eye of the Tiger, and more Sheldon Cooper – Soft Kitty. You might just want to get on with things.


If racking up more student debt, Black Friday-raiding for a graduate-entry place at university and spending less time as a doctor doesn’t appeal to you, studying medicine abroad now seems like a viable option. If anything, it shows how passionate and motivated you are to achieve your dreams.

Let's get one thing straight 

Studying medicine abroad does not make you any less intelligent than your UK counterparts. Medicine is a universal subject with universities across the world excelling in their chosen medical subject of specialty. Wherever you study you will be taught by some of the brightest minds in the field. Do not let your own prejudices, or the prejudices of others, put you off an incredible opportunity.

Thou shall not pass - without passing the appropriate entry requirements

This is not an easy option. Entry requirements into foreign medical schools will still be high. You’ll need good grades and you need to be able to show you’re a well-rounded individual. In many ways, studying abroad may be more difficult. On top of the usual high grades expected as a medical student, you’ll probably be looking after patients who come from a completely different culture to you. That isn’t something everybody can handle. 


Some medical schools, such as those in Italy, require you to sit their own entrance exams. Others may have no entrance exams but require you to have straight A’s at A-level. See our guide to European medical schools on our website for more specific details.

Does distance make the heart grow fonder?

Obviously, if you do choose to study medicine abroad you will be far away from your loved ones. Most medical schools abroad run 6-year programmes, which is a long time to be away from family. If you do choose to study medicine abroad, but your mum cooks a killer Sunday roast that you can’t go a month without, then studying medicine halfway across the globe probably isn’t an ideal solution. A European medical school is probably a better idea, with cheap and short flights to the UK meaning more time for you to spend with your loved ones.

Lost in translation

Some universities abroad will require you to learn their local language so that you can interact with patients - time to put that B in GCSE French to good use. Take Charles University in Prague as an example. Their course is 6-years for undergraduate medicine, but a chunk of your time will be spent learning the local language. There’s only so much you can diagnose using Google translate (trust me I’ve tried). This may appeal to some, obviously, it’s a lifelong skill nobody can take away from you. But remember that medical school is hard enough without adding additional pressures. Choose your schools wisely, there are many European schools which teach their curriculum in English. Details of these can be found on our website.

Mo' money mo' problems

Universities abroad can be costly. Studying medicine in Europe will vary in cost depending on the location you choose. Fees vary from €3000 per year to €14 000 per year. Don’t forget the cost of living including your accommodation, food, bottles of Prosecco and other student stuff….. And remember, your wealth will probably depend on how the British Pound is doing on the financial markets. In this respect, it may be worth also considering some of the UK's new private medical schools.


The college dropout 

It seems like all the millionaires around the world dropped out of university. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates just to name a few. However, believe me, when I say no real doctor ever failed to complete medical school – they all reached their Graduation Day. Universities abroad have notoriously high attrition rates and you may think “I’ll Fly Away”. This is likely to do with a multitude of factors: difficult curriculums, difficulty in students adjusting to lifestyles, homesickness and also financial pressures – overall a tough Workout Plan. Always consider this when making your decision before you make your Last Call.

Can you work really really hard and transfer from a foreign medical school to a UK medical school part-way through your study through some awesome transfer scheme?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: absolutely not.

What about Brexit?

What about it? The impact BREXIT will have on our ability to travel and study in European countries is still largely undecided. However, most experts think it won’t make a difference. There may be financial implications to moving abroad with the currency. Stay tuned for our blog updates on the BREXIT situation as a whole and how this may affect you personally.


What does the GMC think?

The General Medical Council will decide whether or not your foreign degree allows you to practice medicine in the UK (if you choose to come back at all that is). As a general rule, European University Qualifications are generally accepted in the UK. However, there are strict requirements regarding the length of training, number of clinical hours and clinical exposure. You may be required to sit the PLAB exam before you can start work.

It is becoming more competitive to get a foundation year post as a non-UK trainee. Bare this in mind when applying. The UK needs doctors desperately, so where there is a will (and an appropriately accredited medical degree) there is a way. Just be aware you may have to put in some extra work before you can start. You can find further information on the GMC website.

Education agencies & agents: James Bond or Johnny English

There are a whole host of agencies out there that will offer to act as the middle-man to liaise with Universities to get you a place at medical school. They will, of course, charge you a fee. Sometimes they can be useful as they make the application process a whole lot easier. Some of the International Student Services at Universities abroad can feel like hard work. In this case, an agency can be a God-send. However, be cautious with agencies which claim to “guarantee” admission. Nothing in life comes easy, that’s lesson number one of striving to become a doctor. 

Take the leap?

Almost all doctors I speak to now speak fondly of their time at medical school. Whether it be abroad or in the UK, they will be the best days of your life.


Studying medicine abroad may turn out to be the biggest and best adventure of your life. You will come back a different individual with bucket-loads of life experience. But it isn’t for everyone. Take time to make this decision and see if it is right for you. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with us for help in any aspect of your application. I hope this blog has helped answer some questions, but also stir-up some new ones. For further information, you can also read our series of blog posts about studying abroad in specific countries.


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