A Guide to Studying Medicine Overseas

Often considered as one of the most rewarding yet challenging courses, Medicine is consistently at the forefront of the enterprising student’s mind.

There are many reasons to study Medicine overseas. The quality of a country’s healthcare is typically a primary consideration, as is the quality of education. Affordability may be another motivator to studying abroad. Also, competition for places can be fierce and so applying for courses overseas can be an easier pathway to graduation.

Studying Medicine abroad is a good option for some, but won’t be right for everyone. It should not be considered an ‘easy’ option. You will be signing up to study a challenging degree in another country for (at least) five to six years of your life. You will also have to learn the language of the country you are studying in, because, while your studies and exams may be in your native language, you will be communicating with patients in their native language.

Nevertheless, the rewards for studying Medicine overseas can be immense, personally and professionally. If you are considering it, take a closer look at our Guide to Studying Medicine Overseas.

What is Medicine?

Medicine is the science and practice of the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease.

Medicine encompasses a variety of healthcare practices that have evolved to maintain and restore health. Contemporary medicine applies biomedical sciences, biomedical research, genetics, and medical technology to diagnose, treat, and prevent injury and disease, typically through pharmaceuticals or surgery, but also through therapies as diverse as psychotherapy, biologics and others. 

Medicine has existed for thousands of years, oftentimes connected to the religious and philosophical beliefs of local culture. In recent centuries, since the advent of modern science, most medicine has become a combination of art and science (both basic and applied, under the umbrella of medical science). While stitching technique for sutures is an art learned through practice, the knowledge of what happens at the cellular and molecular level in the tissues being stitched arises through science.

Prescientific forms of medicine are now known as traditional medicine and folk medicine. They remain commonly used with or instead of scientific medicine and are thus called alternative medicine.

Why Study Medicine?

As a vocational area of study, a very high percentage (typically over 90%) of graduates will go directly into employment. Medicine graduates will have a broad range of employment options, including:

·         Hospital Doctor

·         General Practice Doctor

·         Surgeon

·         Psychiatrist

·         Pathologist

·         Cardiologist

·         Clinical Radiologist

There are over 60 specialist areas of medicine, and the degree can be applied to many other roles if you so choose. Medicine graduates can mix and match those specialisms in a way that most interests them, giving the degree a lot of variability. 

There is also a lot of job satisfaction with medicine, as aiding a patient or developing a new treatment can bring immense joy and a feeling that you are making a difference.

Medicine is often considered a difficult degree and so it is well respected generally. More so, the work done by Medicine graduates frequently requires constant learning as new discoveries are found. Medicine truly is an area of study in which you will work at the forefront of knowledge.

Deciding on Medicine

Studying medicine is a big commitment. A university level course will typically require five, six or more years of study, as well as additional training. This additional training can typically include work experience and securing placements may be challenging.

Most that choose Medicine will consider becoming a doctor their primary path. It’s important therefore to recognise what being a doctor is like. A proficient doctor will be scientifically literate and a good people person. Being a doctor can be highly stressful. It often requires long working hours and sometimes through the night. There will be times when you will be unable to help patients and you will have to give terrible, painful news to others.

To understand what it takes to study medicine, as well as become a doctor, we recommend you follow the blogs of medical students, read case studies of the lives of doctors and get some medical work experience, no matter how small; perhaps at a local care centre or home for the elderly.

Produce a list of options

Medicine combines healthcare, science and supporting people. If you lack enthusiasm in one of these areas, or don’t believe you can develop the necessary qualities, you could consider a different role. If you enjoy healthcare, perhaps becoming a dentist, nurse or paramedic may be preferable. If you like science, consider research, diagnostics and treatment recommendation. Those who wish to support people can look for charity or government work.

Think about who you are

As with any course, there are qualities you will develop studying Medicine. Though it certainly helps if you possess the following traits:

·         Strong academically, especially in the sciences

·         Commitment and tenacity

·         Organisational skills

·         People skills

·         Communication skills

·         Teamwork

·         Leadership ability

·         Stress management

·         Avid learner and teacher

What do you like doing? How do you like to spend your time? What don’t you like and why? Think about what is going to get the best out of you and give you the most satisfaction.

Think about what matters to you most. Having responsibility? Variety? People contact? Having good work-life balance? Thinking about things like this can provide you with worthwhile insights into how possible options ‘fit’ with your values.

Imagine a typical day doing each role. Does the typical day of a doctor sound like you? Do you want to be in that role?

Make an action plan

If you think you will make a good doctor, prioritise what you need to do and put dates on when you will want these things done by. Tell people about your actions and tell them how they can provide encouragement and support. Taking a structured approach and knowing that you did everything you possibly could can be really worth the time invested into making a well informed decision.

Life as a Medical Student

Studying medicine comes with a certain expectation to work harder on average than most other students. There are generally more contact hours than other subjects with practicals and lectures taking up a great deal of time. Of course it’s not just the contact hours when you are working: lecture notes need to be read over, essays have to be written, practicals should be prepared for and keeping on top of it all can be a challenge.

There’s also a reasonable amount of pressure to pass exams. In most other subjects you study for the best grade possible. Obviously this is true to an extent in medicine, but there are additional challenges: the very high pass marks for the exams you have to pass in order to become a doctor. By passing these you are essentially being certified as competent enough in a subject area to continue towards a professional medical career. Passing these exams can often require cramming a great deal of knowledge in a small space of time and this can be stressful, but the reward after exams is a long summer to enjoy.

But don’t panic, medicine can be challenging but you’ll still have plenty of time to enjoy being a student, an experience that many people say is the best time of their life. The level of work in the course is such that you will have time to make the most out of other activities at university, such as sports, music and the huge range of other societies that are on offer. All that you need to do in order to manage these other activities is be efficient with the time you spend working; don’t spend a whole afternoon watching YouTube videos if you know you have a music rehearsal that evening. University is about a lot more than simply gaining a degree, you will learn a lot about yourself and other people and hopefully build yourself into someone who is capable of being a good doctor.

As well as the vocational skills you acquire when undertaking a degree in medicine, you also develop a range of other transferable skills through your course, such as critical appraisal, observation, listening, logical reasoning and decision making. These skills are crucial when working as a doctor, but are just as useful in work outside medicine.

Other transferable skills include written and oral communication, from completing assignments, taking histories and writing medical reports. You will also be able to work in a team, understanding your role and responsibilities. Similarly, you will learn key skills in how to lead a team and assign tasks.

Most Recognised Institutions/Countries for Medicine

As measured by Times Higher Education, the following universities are the best for clinical studies and health sciences with regards to a Medicine degree.

1.       University of Oxford – United Kingdom

2.       University of Cambridge – United Kingdom

3.       Harvard University – United States

4.       Imperial College London – United Kingdom

5.       Stanford University – United States

6.       Johns Hopkins University – United States

7.       University of California, Berkeley – United States

8.       Columbia University – United States

9.       University of Melbourne – Australia

10.     University of Pennsylvania – United States

As may be expected, the UK and USA dominate the top 20, though the rest of North America, Europe and Asia are well represented in the top 100.

For a complete list of medical schools, visit the World Directory of Medical Schools, an excellent resource listing each institution and its details.

Applying for an Overseas Medicine Course

The study of medicine varies greatly around the world. In the US, medicine is studied in graduate school after completing an undergraduate degree that is not directly related to medicine. Elsewhere, such as in the UK, students can enrol for undergraduate clinical degrees.

Wherever you study, almost all clinical degrees span a good number of years – more than non-clinical courses.

When you have decided in which country (or continent) in which to study, you should research the medical schools within that area. Medical schools and degrees aren’t as numerous as typical universities, which limits the number of options, but which also makes it easier to decide which to apply to.

You should then check entry requirements and fees, see what others say about the experience at your preferred institutions. If possible, visit your preferred city to see if you would enjoy living there for six or more years.

Studying in the United Kingdom

There are currently 33 institutions that offer medical degrees in the United Kingdom. Completion of a medical degree in the UK results in the award of the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. Admission requirements to the schools varies; most insist on solid A-Levels, or equivalent, strong English skills a good performance in an aptitude test such as the UKCAT, the BMAT or the GAMSAT, and usually an interview.

Studying in the United States

In the U.S., medical degrees are split into two programs: Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) that regard the body as an integrated whole, as opposed to specific symptom treatment and Medical Doctors (M.D.), that use Allopathic medicine (or ‘Western medicine’) that treat symptoms with drugs and surgery. There are 141 M.D. programs and 30 D.O. in the United States.

Admission to medical school in the United States is based mainly on a GPA, MCAT score, admissions essay, interview, clinical work experience and volunteering activities, along with research and leadership roles in an applicant's history.

While obtaining an undergraduate degree is not an explicit requirement for a few medical schools, virtually all admitted students have earned at least a bachelor's degree. A few medical schools offer pre-admittance to students directly from high school by linking a joint 3-year accelerated undergraduate degree and a standard 4-year medical degree with certain undergraduate universities, sometimes referred to as a "7-year program", where the student receives a bachelor's degree after their first year in medical school.

Studying in India

In India, admission to medical colleges is organized by the central government by NTA (National Testing Agency) through tests known as NEET. Students who have successfully completed their 10+2 (Physics, Chemistry and Biology Marks are considered and PCB is mandatory) education (higher secondary school) can appear for the tests the same year.

Studying Elsewhere

As studying Medicine can be so competitive, each country will have its own very particular process of application. Studying in the United Kingdom might have the most complex application process, which, in brief, is as follows:

·         Completing work experience

·         Choosing a medical school

·         Completing UCAS application

·         Writing a personal statement

·         Doing the UKCAT test

·         Doing the BMAT test

·         Passing the interview

Note that this doesn’t include language qualifications, visa applications, or other traditional obstacles to overseas study.

It is necessary then, to research all the tests and applications you will have to complete and build a calendar of dates. It is challenging, but make no mistake, a Medicine degree will be far more challenging. With that being said, we wish you could luck with your application!