The International Guide to Studying Medicine

Studying medicine can be very rewarding, but also requires immense dedication and tenacity. In this article we look at the different international pathways to becoming a doctor.

If you have students with the ambition to study medicine, good for them!

Being a doctor can be a very rewarding career. There is arguably no better job for someone to help others on a daily basis, and to really feel that their work is making a positive impact.

But the path to practising medicine is long and difficult, requiring immense dedication and tenacity.

Students who choose to embark on this career will have to commit to a more complex university application process, and then be facing at least six (and usually many more) years in education.

What’s more, if they are studying medicine internationally, the route they take will depend on which country they choose. Each country has its own specific requirements, and it can be hard for a student to decide which destination is the best way for them.

In this post, we’ll go into more detail on studying medicine - including what the degree entails, the different international pathways, and how students can succeed in the application process.

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What can students do with a medical degree?

This is pretty self-explanatory! Though there are times when people with Medical qualifications don’t end up working in medicine, your students shouldn’t embark upon a degree in Medicine without being certain they want to be a doctor. As you’ll know, medical degrees take a lot of time and discipline, and therefore require a true passion for the subject.

If your students are interested in working in the medical field, but aren’t sure if they can commit to or afford the amount of training involved, there are a few shorter qualifications they can consider - for example, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, or dentistry. They can also consider other pathways in the science and engineering fields.

What does studying medicine look like?

Content

As we said before, a medical degree is designed to prepare students for a career in medicine! A vocational qualification, it consists of a mixture of classroom learning, lab work, as well as practical training. In all countries, students will have to take some sort of intern year or residency after medical school to become a qualified doctor.

Many medical qualifications allow students to specialise in a specific area - for example, paediatrics, surgery, or oncology. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that these specialisms often require further years of study.

Length

With the classroom study and practical training mentioned above, it can take between 6 and 12 years to fully qualify as a doctor, depending on which country your students choose.

Some countries offer medicine at the bachelor’s level, while others only offer it as a postgraduate qualification. We’ll go into more detail on this in the next section.

Pathways to practising medicine

There are two main pathways for students who want to practice Medicine - an undergraduate Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery Degree (MBBS) or a postgraduate Doctor of Medicine degree (MD). Even if a student opts for the MBBS pathway, they will still need to take some form of postgraduate training to qualify as a doctor.

Here are some examples of each pathway from around the world:

MBBS pathway

  • In the UK, a bachelor’s degree in medicine will take around 5 years to complete. Then, students must take a 2-year foundation course working in an NHS hospital. After this, they can choose to take further training to specialise in a certain discipline - for example becoming a General Practitioner.
  • The system in Hong Kong is similar, with all medical graduates required to undergo one year of residency in a public hospital after their MBBS.
  • Japanese universities offer undergraduate medical degrees which last 6 years (including 2 years training in the university hospital). Then, they must take a final exam and spend a further 2 years as a resident.

MD pathway

  • In the US and Canada, attending medical school requires students to already have a bachelor’s degree. The course takes 4 years, followed by a residency programme of 3-7 years. So, becoming a doctor will take at least 11 years.
  • Though some Australian universities offer an MBBS programme, the MD is much more common. Following this students must take an intern year, and then a residency programme.

Other routes

It’s worth noting that some countries do not follow these routes (for example, in the Netherlands the path to becoming a doctor involves a 3-year BSc in Medicine, a 3-year MSc, and a training year). Hopefully, it goes without saying that any budding doctors in your school should do their research thoroughly!

Studying Medicine: Hear from St George's University & University of Dundee

Where should students apply for a medical degree?

There’s no one answer to this question, and students wanting to embark upon a medical degree should think about their options carefully.

The main thing they should consider is which country they would like to live and work in, as they could be studying in that country for as long as 12 years before being able to move. Also, medical graduates are generally only registered in the country they trained in, so if they choose to move it’s likely that they will have to take additional training or examinations in their new country.

In general, the most highly esteemed countries for studying medicine include the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and graduates from these countries can be exempt from additional training if they choose to move. However, this means that medical schools in these countries are also the most competitive!

One further thing students should consider when deciding where to apply is the language requirements. Even though a lot of medical courses are taught in English, intern and residency programmes involve working in a practical setting, which will require knowledge of the local language.

How do students apply to study medicine?

Medicine is one of the most competitive degrees out there, and many countries impose caps on the numbers of international students a medical school can admit. This means that the application process is quite rigorous, and deadlines are usually earlier than for other subjects.

As well as their general applications, students will have to take part in the following:

Entrance examinations

Some countries will require students to sit an entrance examination, which is designed to test a student’s reasoning and judgement skills and will require a great deal of preparation. These will either be nationally recognised tests (e.g. BMAT or UCAT in the UK, GAMSAT in Australia) or set by the individual universities.

It’s worth noting that some countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands, do not require prospective medical students to sit an entrance exam, so students should check the requirements of their chosen university carefully.

Interviews

If a student passes the first stage of the admissions process (the written application), they will be invited to interview. The purpose of this interview is for admissions departments to get a feel for whether a student possesses the intrapersonal and logical skills required to be a doctor.

Though there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, topics that may be covered include:

  • Problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy and moral reasoning
  • An understanding of what it means to have a career in medicine

Which subjects should students take at high school level?

A grounding in chemistry and biology is essential for prospective medical school students. However, some institutions will also require higher-level qualifications in physics and mathematics.

How can students make their applications stand out?

As we mentioned in the last section, medical degrees are very competitive. Throughout the application process, students will need to prove their passion and aptitude for the subject, and demonstrate the qualities listed above.

So, perhaps more than with any other degree, work experience is essential. Not only will it help students get a feel for the profession, how they learn from these experiences will be a key factor in whether they are accepted into medical school. When undertaking work experience, students should reflect on their interactions with patients and other staff members, and be prepared to speak about these in their application.

Other things students can highlight in their applications include:

  • Commitment: Have they been pursuing a hobby or interest for several years? It’s a great way to show admissions officers that they will commit to their degree, too!
  • Leadership: Have they been in a situation where they have had to make decisions and show initiative?
  • Community service: Compassion and humanity are essential skills for doctors to possess, so students should showcase any volunteer or charity work they have done.

We hope this article will help you better advise any budding doctors in your school, and lead them towards successful application! For more information on other popular subjects, download your free International Careers Handbook.

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