Medical school courses
This page looks at the different types of courses available to you at medical school and gives information and advice about entry to each.
To train as a doctor, the first stage is to take a degree at medical school. Depending on the university or course, you will be awarded an MB, BMBS, MB ChB, MB BS or similar, but they are generally called ‘first MB’.
There are various types of courses:
- standard, five-year programmes
- programmes that include a foundation year
- courses for graduates eg four-year accelerated programmes
- overseas programmes
- courses that include an intercalated degree
For a summary of the academic requirements for medical school, see the British Medical Association (BMA) website. Up-to-date information is also available through the UCAS website and through medical school websites and prospectuses.
Medical schools set their own academic entry requirements, so it’s important to check these with individual schools. However, for all courses entry means:
- you’ll need excellent GSCE and AS level results
- gaining high grades in your A level or equivalent qualifications
- passing an interview
- demonstrating that you have developed some understanding of medicine, for example through relevant paid or unpaid experience and/or work shadowing
- usually taking an admissions test
- health and background checks
- you’ll be asked to show how you think the NHS values would apply in your everyday work as a doctor. Find out more about NHS values.
Skills and interests
You need to prove that you:
- have the capacity to learn and retain lots of information
- have a genuine understanding of, interest in and commitment to medicine
- have the necessary analytical and reasoning skills, the ability to think quickly and have an enquiring mind
- have excellent people skills
- have other skills such as time management and leadership skills
- are a well-rounded person (eg by having some non-academic interests)
- Standard, five-year courses Expand / Collapse
The majority of students take a five-year course in medicine. For entry you need at least three A levels (or possibly equivalent level 3 qualifications) at very high grades. Most medical schools expect you to have at least two science subjects and usually specify chemistry and sometimes biology. If you don’t have an A level in either biology or chemistry, you may need an AS level in the subject, but check with the individual medical school.
Alternative level 3 qualifications, such as a relevant BTEC Level 3 National or Access to Medicine qualification may be acceptable. You may need to offer relevant AS/A levels alongside.
It is essential to check up-to-date entry requirements with individual medical schools, ideally before choosing your level 3 qualifications. Use our coursefinder to get a list of approved degrees in medicine
- Courses that include a foundation year Expand / Collapse
Some courses last for six years because they start with an extra foundation year. This may be called a pre-clinical, pre-medical, extended or preliminary year. Several medical schools run such courses to prepare students for a degree in medicine. They are usually for those who have not studied sufficient science. A few foundation year programmes are specifically aimed at students who have had an educational disadvantage.
- Courses for graduates Expand / Collapse
There are a number of routes for graduates through medical school. You could:
- apply for four-year accelerated Graduate Entry Programmes (GEPs), available at some medical schools. These courses are very intense and you’ll have shorter summer holidays
- apply for standard, five-year programmes. This would give you more choice as not all medical schools offer four-year courses
As a graduate entrant, most medical schools expect you to have at least a 2:1 degree, but if you have a postgraduate qualification, this might be less important. There may also be GCSE and AS/A level (or equivalent) requirements. Normally your degree should be in a science subject, but some courses accept non-sciences. If you don’t have the necessary degree grade or subject, you could consider taking an Access to Medicine programme before applying.
You may be expected to complete the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT) or another admissions test. Competition for places is particularly high for four-year GEPs, although this varies from course to course.
It’s important to contact medical schools directly for details on graduate programmes and to check their entry requirements. These can be found on our course finder.
You should check the financial commitments of graduate entry, especially if you already have student debt from your first degree and/or are used to earning money from employment.
- Overseas programmes Expand / Collapse
You could also apply to a medical school overseas (eg Charles University in Prague or St Georges in the Caribbean).
It is essential that you research such options carefully. Find out:
- the entry requirements (these are often lower than in the UK)
- whether the course is taught in English or in a language in which you are proficient
- the fees – outside the European Union you will be classed as an international student, so fees may be high and you may not be entitled to financial support
- whether you would be eligible to do the Foundation Programme in the UK after your degree. This is really important, as with most non-UK medical schools you will usually need to complete an internship year and this means you will be given full GMC registration. Having full GMC registration means that under current rules you will not be eligible for the full two-year foundation programme. This means that it will be much tougher than usual to get into training in the UK
There are also some courses run in the UK but using a foreign medical school curricula eg School of Health and Neural Sciences, Nottingham.
If you are a UK national and want to work in the UK as a doctor after achieving an overseas qualification from a medical school outside the UK, EEA or Switzerland, you have to pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) test to gain registration. Find out from the General Medical Council (GMC) whether the degree you would get would make you eligible to sit the PLAB.
You would also have to take PLAB if you are a national of a country outside the UK, EEA or Swizterland who graduated from a medical school outside the UK.