How to Intercalated Degrees and Alternatives

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What is an Intercalated Degree?
The intercalated degree is an extra year’s study inserted between two years of a standard medical course with the aim of studying a subject at greater depth and gaining a BSc, BA or BMedSci degree.The choice of degrees is vast, with some being heavily science oriented such as Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Surgical Sciences; some are clinically orientated, such as Primary Care and Child Health; whereas others are arts based, such as Global Health, History of Medicine, Psychology, and Business Management.Approximately one-third of medical students in the UK medical schools undertake intercalated degrees. At some universities (Oxbridge, UCL, Imperial), this year in mandatory, but for others there is a big choice of whether to intercalate or not to intercalate?

Things to consider
This is a year to study something that you’re interested in, gain a qualification, and learn new skills. Many students choose to do this at a different university to their medical degree.There are many points to consider, summarised as advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages
Learning new skills
As a pre-clinical student, most study is rote learning to answer MCQs. Most intercalated degrees are tested through essays, and therefore new skills such as literature searches, critical appraisal, presentation skills and scientific writing will be acquired.
Research has shown that students who take intercalated degrees are likely to have more papers published in scientific journals, and to have gained research grants.A year of being a normal student
An intercalated year normally involves fewer contact hours than medical years. This means that you’ll have the time to pursue other interests such as clubs and societies, and activities outside of medicine.Increases future options
Gaining a degree after 3 years of study opens up opportunities to pursue other professions (many of which don’t require a specific degree) and provides an exit strategy for those who no longer wish to pursue a career in medicine.Pursuing Interests
The choice of which intercalated degree you do it yours. Here, you can learn more about what you’re interested in, and show early commitment to the future specialty you’re considering. For a surgical career, degrees such as Anatomy and Surgical Science are good options. There is a lot of scope to focus on your interests, being able to choose your own modules, your research project, and who you work with. There is also the opportunity to work alongside non-medics, in an interdisciplinary team environment.Career development
An intercalated degree looks good on a CV as it demonstrates that you have extra skills, and have furthered your interests. It also helps with points on FPAS (foundation applications) and for specialist training later on. The better your degree classification, the more points you’ll attain. This is particularly important for competitive jobs and specialties.Exam results
Research indicated that 4th year students who took an intercalated degree perform better in exams than those that didn’t. There are also suggestions that additional benefits of intercalating include having a greater depth of medical knowledge than their peers.

Disadvantages
Cost
Some students are put off by another year of tuition fees. In the UK, since the rise of tuition fees to £9000, there has been a decrease in the uptake of intercalated degrees. Furthermore, you are another year away from qualifying to receive a proper wage so you actually lose one year of earnings as well as paying an extra year’s travel, living and textbook costs.There are many ways of offsetting the cost of an intercalated year. There are many bursaries and grants available for students. Also, if you intercalate, you receive an NHS bursary a year earlier, in your penultimate and final year, instead of just your final year. Many students can also fit in part-time work around their studies in this year, as contact hours are reduced.Another year of studying
Some students are put off an intercalated year due to a lack of interest. It take five years to complete the standard MBBS course and hence studying for an extra year requires students to pay careful consideration to motivational, career and financial factors in order to make the right decision for them. Not all students have an interest in research, and therefore don’t want to pursue this extra year.

Alternatives to an Intercalated Year
If you’ve decided not to intercalate, there are still other study options to further your interests:Defer your decision till after clinical medicine begins
Some students have the option of continuing into clinical medicine and then doing an intercalated degree between the 3rd and 4th or 4th and 5th years of study.
PROS – more time to evaluate the different options, more time to gauge your own interests, your BSc can have a different angle, taking into account the clinical experiences you acquired in the preceding year(s).
CONS – splitting up your clinical years and losing contact with patients at a time when your clinical skills are developing,; difficulties in motivation.MBPhD
Several medical schools offer the opportunity to do an integrated MBPhD programme.  This allows medical students to get a basic medical degree and a PhD in about 7-8 years.
PROS – If you are sure about a career in Academic Medicine then this is an option worth considering, takes less time than doing the degrees separately, integrated nature of the degree minimises the potential loss of clinical skills.
CONS – Few places and very competitiveMasters Degree post qualification
A part-time masters degree done immediately after qualification over a 2 year period during your Foundation Years is another option.
PROS – Doesn’t require a year out like intercalated year; confer smore “points” in future applications; likely to select a degree which is related more to your eventual specialty likely to be more clinically relevant; networking potential and opportunities to launch parallel or portfolio careers.
CONS – Costs more than intercalated degree; juggling study will full time foundation job

Summary

  • The range of intercalated degree course available is vast
  • There are many advantages to intercalating, such as learning new skills and career development
  • Some students are worried about an extra year of debt, however there are lots of opportunities for funding
  • There are many alternatives to taking an intercalated year

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