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Choosing what to study

Alternatives to Medicine & Surgery courses at university

Advice for applying to competitive medical courses, and what alternatives to a medicine degree there are if you don’t receive any offers.

Medical education stethoscope on a stack of medical text books


  1. What to do before you apply

  2. What to do if you don’t get into medical school

  3. Alternative courses to Medicine

  4. Non-standard routes into Medicine

  5. Fees and funding

What to do before you apply

Do your research

Before applying to medical school, find out as much information as possible about studying the subject area and what a career in medicine is like. Look into the entry requirements for courses you are interested in across different institutions.

This will help you get a full view of what to expect and what will be expected of you. The number of universities that offer clinical medicine courses (Medicine & Surgery, or MBBS, MBChB) is relatively small, so it’s fairly easy to find what’s available.

Be realistic

Medicine is a highly competitive subject to get into, so consider your predicted grades and think carefully about your chances of success. There’s little point in applying to four Medicine courses if there’s a slim chance of getting in.

Applications per place are usually one in ten, with the vast majority of those applicants on track to achieve AAB and better in their A Levels or equivalent. A 40% chance of success is a reasonable approximation.

If you want to pursue Medicine, use your fifth choice wisely; choose a healthcare-related course or biology subject. UCAS rules don’t allow you to apply to five Medicine & Surgery courses but see below for alternative options outside of the UCAS process.

Get experience

Practical experience is crucial. Make yourself as appealing to universities as possible by gaining as much as you can, from short placements to longer-term volunteering work. This will show your skills and demonstrate how dedicated you are.

You can find suitable work experience opportunities in places such as a local GP, hospice, nursing home, hospital or pharmacy. Look for placements on volunteer websites, talk to people who may know someone who works in the industry, and search online for work in your area. Be proactive and if you can’t find something you want to do, make further enquiries to find someone who can help you more.

Know what to expect

There are different admissions and testing processes across institutions offering Medicine courses. Increasingly, universities are using MMI (Multiple Mini Interviews) days as a way to objectively select students to receive an offer. University websites normally have brief explainers to give you an idea of what to expect.

What to do if you don’t get into medical school

Decide what went wrong

Think about your interview, did this let you down? Or was it the admissions test? Could you improve if you resit and/or reapply?

They might not give you an answer, but get in touch with the medical school that rejected your application to ask for feedback.

What is the medical school’s policy – would they accept resit results with higher grades? If yes, could you realistically get those grades? Consider what you need to improve if you want to reapply next year.

Consider graduate entry

You can take an undergraduate degree – in any subject, but a related one would be best – and then apply for graduate entry into a Medicine course. This gives you more freedom if you change your mind, and by gaining experience in a different discipline you’ll be able to bring a different approach to a graduate entry role.

There are different options for graduates, including five-year programmes, or four-year accelerated Graduate Entry Programmes (GEPs). GEPs teach the same content as a standard programme but in a shorter amount of time, so are more intense.

Graduate entry to Medicine can be more competitive than standard undergraduate entry. Look at the entry requirements for such courses and see whether or not you could expect to meet them. You will usually need a first or upper second-class honours degree. If you have a postgraduate degree this may not be as relevant.

Don’t forget to check that the courses you apply for will accept graduates, and whether you need to take certain admissions tests.

Consider other medical schools in the UK and overseas

Medical schools, including those in Ireland, Czech Republic and St George’s University in Grenada have slightly different application procedures and deadlines. These schools admit UK students who can normally work back in the UK after graduating.

The University of Buckingham in the UK has an independent MB ChB Medical School programme with a January intake, so the 15 October application deadline is not required. This degree has clinical placements in UK hospitals and adheres to GMC (General Medical Council) regulations.

When you originally apply to university, be more flexible in your four UCAS choices and consider some of the options above as a fifth and/or sixth choice. Note that these programmes can be just as competitive as other UK medical schools so are not easy options. But they may have different timelines and more flexible deadlines, or be used to recruiting older students or those who were unsuccessful the first time around.

These schools may not require the BMAT or UKCAT test to be completed as they have their own tried-and-tested selection procedures. Alternative medical schools may have different fee structures so you also need to check these before committing to an application and journey to the interview/MMI selection day.

Get even more experience

Again, practical experience is so important. Any extra experience you can gain will be invaluable and make your more attractive to student recruiters. See examples of work experience options above.

doctor studying and diagnostic data of patient for treatment

Alternative courses to Medicine

A related degree may not be what you had in mind, but it can open doors and potentially suit you better than a standard Medicine degree. It’s worth noting that applications for Pharmacy and Optometry, for example, may not initially make offers to medical school applicants as a fifth UCAS choice, but will consider applications if aspiring medics are unsuccessful.

Some courses are more appropriate than others:

  • Biomedical Science
  • Optometry, Ophthalmics & Orthoptics
  • Pharmacology & Pharmacy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Psychology

Other degrees are still related, but may not be as useful when applying for graduate entry:

  • Audiology
  • Dentistry
  • Dietetics
  • Healthcare Science
  • Midwifery
  • Music Therapy
  • Nursing (four fields of nursing: adult, child, learning disability, mental health) and other specialisms that may require further training (e.g. community, accident and emergency, neonatal, neurology)
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Oncology
  • Paramedic Science
  • Podiatry
  • Psychological Therapies
  • Radiotherapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Specific scientific areas may also be appropriate

Other options

  • Medicine with a foundation year
  • Pursue another profession/degree that could allow for the practical experience required, for example, Cardiographer, dental support worker, support worker

Non-standard routes into Medicine

You may be able to transfer after the first year of a different degree to the first or second year of a medical course. This is quite unusual and should always be checked with the university.

One example of transfers is at the University of Bradford, which focuses on widening participation students by collaborating with Leeds Medical School. Another case is at Newcastle University, where you can transfer to a Medicine course from a programme in the School of Biomedical Sciences.

If you are considering this route into Medicine, be sure to research the funding position. You should consider contacting your funding body (SFE, SAAS) to check whether tuition fee loans are available for the whole course. Alternatively, you can ask the university you are applying to, as they should be able to advise you.

There are other options – spend time researching and asking questions, and you should find something that suits you.

Fees and funding

If you are entering medical school as a graduate, funding is slightly different than for undergraduates. You will not be able to receive a loan for tuition fees or a maintenance grant, even if you didn’t receive funding for your previous degree. In the fifth year of medical training, graduate-entry students will usually receive the same funding as undergraduate students.

Get in contact with the medical schools you are applying to, to see if NHS financial support applies. You will have to meet certain criteria.

You may be eligible to apply for extra support from your country’s funding authority. Visit their websites for more information

  1. Continue To Explore...
  2. Undergraduate Medicine courses

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