Intercalated degrees allow medical students to take time out of the MBChB degree to study another degree.1 Typically, this extends the total duration of study by one year, but students graduate with two degrees. Depending on the university, intercalation may be compulsory or optional and may be undertaken after the second, third or fourth year.
Choosing the degree
There is an array of degrees to choose from. Intercalation is an opportunity to study a scientific discipline that has not been covered in significant detail in the MBChB course, for example, anatomy or pharmacology. Alternatively, students may choose an unrelated degree, for example, art or business.2 It may be possible to intercalate at another university or abroad.2 Students should ensure that the course matches their own university’s academic term dates. It is also important to consider whether a Bachelor’s degree – for example BSc or BMedSci – or a Master’s degree is most appropriate.
A database of intercalated degrees for medical students in the UK is available here. It is advisable for students to talk to others who have previously undertaken an intercalated degree and visit universities to meet staff and students to collect course details and learn how obtaining the degree will be beneficial for their careers.2 Additionally, students should contact course directors to enquire about application procedures and deadlines.
There are numerous benefits of intercalation. It is an opportunity for students to explore subjects of specific interest, focus on what they enjoy and decide on career goals.1 It allows them to take a break from the MBChB degree and experience university life outside of medicine. Typically, as compared to the other years of the degree, the additional year comprises fewer weekly timetabled sessions. This gives students more time to pursue extracurricular activities – for example, clubs and societies – and refresh themselves before returning to their final years of medical school.3
A research project is often conducted during the intercalated year, allowing the acquisition of new skills, for example, literature searching, critical appraisal and scientific writing.3 Students may have the opportunity to present their work at conferences or in journals.
Intercalation can be an opportunity to demonstrate early commitment to the specialty that students intend to pursue.3 The application for the UK Foundation Programme (UKFP) awards up to four points, depending on the degree classification, for an honours degree obtained in addition to the primary medical qualification (Table 1).5 These extra points are especially important for applying to competitive specialties. Additionally, an intercalated BSc is often an entry requirement for the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP).2
Table 1 – UKFP points for additional degrees
Primary medical qualification only
3rd class BMedSci integrated degree
3rd class honours degree
Unclassified honours degree
2.2. class BMedSci integrated degree
2.2. class honours degree
2.1 class BMedSci integrated degree
2.1 class honours degree
1st class BMedSci integrated degree
1st class honours degree
Postgraduate Master’s degree (level 7 only) e.g. MPhil, MSc, MPharm
Intercalation also benefits the health service. It facilitates entry of more mature, well-rounded doctors into the NHS.1 Additionally, it gives future doctors an understanding of research and equips them with competencies requisite to become clinical academics.1
Some considerations are necessary before a decision to intercalate is finalised. One of the commonest reasons that students choose not to intercalate is that it is an additional year of study.4 This means graduating after people who entered medical school alongside them and waiting longer for employment and a salary. Additionally, an intercalated BSc often covers three years of the degree in one year and Master’s degrees feature significant independent research.
Consequently, intercalated degrees feature high workloads. Students should also consider the impact that a year outside of the clinical environment will have on their readiness for their final exams.
It is also advisable to consider finances as there will be an additional year of tuition and living costs. For students intercalating after the third year of the MBChB degree, or earlier, financial support from Student Finance England or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland will continue.5
Students intercalating after the fourth year are eligible to apply for the NHS Bursary which will cover the intercalation year and the fifth year of the MBChB.5 All students are eligible for the NHS bursary after five years of study, regardless of the year they intercalate.2 Other bursaries and funding options are available. Students are advised to check with their chosen course provider.
Intercalated degrees [Internet]. British Medical Association. 2021 [cited 23 June 2021]. Available from: https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/studying-medicine/becoming-a-doctor/intercalated-degrees
A guide to intercalation [Internet]. Hull York Medical School. [cited 23 June 2021]. Available from: https://www.hyms.ac.uk/intercalation/guide-to-intercalation
Agha, R., Fowler, A., Whitehurst, K., Rajmohan, S., Gundogan, B. and Koshy, K., 2017. Why apply for an intercalated research degree? International Journal of Surgery: Oncology, 2(6).
NHS Bursary funding for medical and dental students 2020/21 [Internet]. National Health Service Business Services Authority. [cited 23 May 2021]. Available from: https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/2020-06/NHS%20Bursary%20Funding%20for%20Medical%20and%20Dental%20Students%202020-21%20%28V1%29%2006%202020.pdf
Intercalation funding [Internet]. University of Bristol. [cited 23 June 2021]. Available from: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/support/finances/med-dent-vet/intercalation/#:~:text=Student%20Loans%20Company.-,If%20you%20intercalate%20after%20the%20fourth%20year%20and%20normally%20live,course%2C%20including%20the%20intercalation%20year.