Intercalated degrees

A guide for medical students on intercalated degrees including the benefits of intercalating and some of the key considerations.

Location: UK
Audience: Medical students
Updated: Thursday 3 November 2022
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As part of your medical studies, you may have the option to do an intercalating degree, which is time out of your regular medical degree to study a specific area of interest.

Many medical schools in the UK offer full intercalated degrees, where it is part of the degree for all medical students to take a year off to study a different field. Others require you to apply for the year off, which usually occurs during your third or fourth year.


What is intercalating?

Intercalating is often seen as a way into academic medicine, with the opportunity to undertake clinical research or education and teaching. However, there is a wide range of subjects to choose from when deciding what you want to study in more depth, including: bioethics, journalism, history of medicine and medical management.


The benefits of intercalating

Your year out can act not only as a break from your degree, to explore a subject you are passionate about, but also as an opportunity to experience life outside of medical school.

Some of the benefits include:

  • focussing on what you particularly enjoy and getting valuable insights into where you want your career to go
  • reflecting on your chosen area of study and if it is right for you
  • receiving an additional degree on top of your undergraduate medical degree, which could lead to the option of doing a PhD later in your career
  • it is an opportunity to make new friends and contacts outside of medical school
  • working on other activities outside of medicine and refreshing your batteries before your final years of study.

We would encourage you to talk to anyone who has taken an intercalated year out to get an insight into whether it's right for you.

You can also speak to your medical school, as they may support alternatives such as special study modules, European Medical Student Association (EMSA) exchanges and the Erasmus programme.


Benefits of intercalating to the NHS

  • HEE (Health Education England) has noted that the benefits of intercalation include delivering more mature, well rounded graduates into the NHS.
  • The HEE mandate from the Department of Health also calls on them to develop a workforce that embraces research and innovation and to explore opportunities for students to intercalate MScs as part of their education (HEE Mandate 6.48-56).
  • Intercalation can also give future doctors the insight into research and research methodology that the Keogh Mortality Review highlights, plus also producing a pool of people with skills to become clinical academics in the future.


Things to consider when intercalating

Whilst there are benefits to intercalating, there are important factors to consider, such as:

Financial implications

  1. An extra year means paying for an extra year of study, including any relevant tuition and living costs.
  2. Bursaries and other funding options are available, check with the medical school you are currently studying at and the university you want to go to for more information.
  3. Intercalated years at bachelors or masters level can be counted towards the qualifying year for NHS bursary funding, which could ease financial pressures.

Check out our  student finance guides  for more useful resources.

Prolonging your training

Prolonging your training could mean you will not graduate with most of the people you entered medical school with, being a year behind.

It's also important to note that intercalation is not a requirement if you decide to become a consultant or primary care doctor later in your career.

Intercalation is not for every student, so it's worth taking the time to weigh up the pros and cons before making your decision.