Intended for healthcare professionals


Mastering your year out: a guide to postgraduate study

BMJ 2024; 385 doi: (Published 06 June 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;385:q1222
  1. Alexander Mafi, editorial registrar
  1. The BMJ

Medical students and doctors have opportunities along their medical training to take a year out for masters studies. Alexander Mafi offers guidance for those considering postgraduate education during medical school or after foundation training.

Opportunities to undertake postgraduate education are available throughout medical careers. For most doctors, the first opportunity to complete a postgraduate degree will be the year after foundation training, often called the foundation year 3 (F3) year. Although some doctors decide to spend this year working in the warmer Australian climates or picking up locum shifts and travelling, others might already be missing life as a student and want to expand their academic horizons.

If you fall into the last category, here is a brief guide to the pros and cons of studying for a postgraduate degree—and some reflections from my colleagues who have completed postgraduate studies in London and Berlin.

What are my options?

A huge range of postgraduate courses are available for medical students and recent medical graduates, so start with some online research to get a feel for what is available. Box 1 gives information on some common postgraduate courses.

Box 1

Examples of postgraduate courses

  • Master of science (MSc)—includes scientific and technical disciplines. These courses typically require in-depth coursework and the completion of a dissertation or research project.

  • Master of arts (MA)—includes humanities, social sciences, and arts. These courses often place emphasis on theoretical and conceptual understanding and critical thinking. Coursework is needed.

  • Postgraduate diploma (PGDip)—a vocational postgraduate degree that involves specialist training. These courses are usually less intensive than those for an MSc (often 120 v 180 credits) but can lead to a masters degree.

  • Postgraduate certificate (PGCert)—shorter courses that provide a foundational understanding of a subject area and can lead to a PGDip and then masters programme.

  • Master of philosophy (MPhil)—courses focus on research methodology and are centred around independent research …

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