“Inter-what?” is usually the reply I get when people ask me what year of medical school I’m in and I have to bring out my well-rehearsed explanation; intercalation is a year out of conventional medical school, where students join the Honours year of another degree to get an extra degree (usually a BMedSci). Different universities offer different courses and offer the intercalated year at differing times in the course of the medical degree, while some don’t offer it at all. Generally, the degrees on offer are biomedical sciences-based but sometimes options such as medical literature and global health are available. Some universities offer the chance for students to complete their intercalated year at a different university if the course they would like to take isn’t offered at their home university. Of the universities that offer intercalation, some may make the year competitive to get into or, in the case of the University of Edinburgh, it may even be compulsory.
I chose to complete intercalation because having another degree gives a slight edge for application to junior doctor jobs and I felt that I wanted an extra year to prepare myself for beginning my clinical placements. I chose to complete my BMedSci in Reproductive Biology and for the first time in my life at university, I had to choose electives (mini modules of study). Intercalation allows for more autonomous learning that medicine quite often doesn’t.
In my first semester, my mornings consisted of lectures which were delivered in a style very similar to medicine while my afternoons were dedicated to “self-study”. During the afternoons of self-study, my time mainly consisted of reading science papers. I found that the main difference in learning style between medicine and intercalation is that papers informed my revision more than notes taken during lectures. In medical lectures, the information given is mainly evidence-based facts, whereas in the Reproductive Biology lectures, the information provided was centred around cutting-edge research which was often debated and not concrete. Reading papers provided arguments of differing views on the research and for the first time, I learned to not take information at face value and to challenge where the information was coming from.
During my second semester, I had to conduct research and write a mini-dissertation on my findings. The projects undertaken allow people to choose an area of science in which they are interested and is another prime example of intercalation allowing for more autonomy. Projects can be lab-based, literature-based or statistics-based, meaning that there is something for everyone! If you like to be hands-on and practical, lab projects are best for you, whereas if you prefer reading and weighing up arguments, literature research is great. If epidemiology and trends in numbers take your fancy, then statistics-based projects are perfect for you.
For me, intercalation has been a really fun year! It’s allowed me to meet new people from a different course and has enabled me to appreciate the work that goes on behind the research which informs a doctor’s practice. I feel that my academic writing and critical thinking skills have improved massively thanks to this year and I would highly recommend intercalating.
Intercalation is a great opportunity, but it isn’t for everyone. It’s another year of university, with fees and living costs adding up and extra time to gaining that all-important medical qualification. Some people may not like the research aspect of most of the courses on offer or may decide that focussing on medicine is what’s best for them. Therefore, it’s really important to consider whether or not you’d like to do the intercalation year before choosing universities to apply to, as it may influence your choices.
As ever at Applican, if you have any questions about intercalation and choosing a university, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.