Everything you need to know about Intercalation

Updated: Sep 27

By Sirat Lodhi


A bit about me…

Hi, my name is Sirat and I am a fifth year medical student at the University of Manchester. I am a postgraduate widening participation fellow at the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, and the president of the Manchester medical education society. I am well aware of how difficult it can be for students from under-represented backgrounds to find out what medicine is really like. This is made more difficult if you do not have the all famous ‘contacts’. Now that I am at medical school, I would like to share my experience of one aspect of medicine- intercalation.


What is intercalation?

Intercalation refers to taking time out of medicine to complete a new degree. Following the completion of the intercalated degree, medicine is continued. This may sound like a dream to some and a nightmare to others! The good news is that most universities consider intercalation as being an optional aspect of the medical course. However, some universities make this compulsory. Therefore, it is vital that you have taken this into consideration before applying to medical school.


What did you study and why?

While completing a research project as part of my third year of medicine, I realised that I really enjoyed research. It was not until my supervisor suggested that I should consider completing an intercalated research degree, that I thought: “this may be for me”. I decided to complete a research masters (MRes) degree in Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine. I chose this subject because it was related to surgery, the specialty that I am hoping to pursue.


Did you find it difficult to leave your friends behind in your original year group?

Following intercalation, you will be returning back to medicine to join a new cohort of students. If friends from your original year group did not intercalate, they will not be in this new cohort. I didn’t find this difficult as I made more friends and stayed in touch with my non-intercalating friends outside of teaching hours.


How did you manage funding your tuition fees?

I was eligible for the NHS bursary. For most individuals, the NHS covers the cost of tuition fees after year 4 of medical school. This includes the intercalated year if it is undertaken between year 4 and 5 of medicine. The NHS covered most of my MRes tuition fees and I paid the remainder myself. Medical schools do offer intercalation funding advice, so I would not worry if you are unsure at this stage.


Did you worry about graduating a year later in the grand scheme of things?

Personally, I did not worry about this. Firstly, people may graduate later than planned for multiple reasons. For example, intercalation, illness, exam resits, and exploring new opportunities are all common reasons. It is also normal to take time out during your working life as a doctor (eg. childcare and other family commitments, being unsure of which specialty to pursue, and wanting a year away from work to travel). Some individuals may also prefer to work less than full time, lengthening their training. Therefore, why not take a year away from medical school if you wish to do so? There is no rush to get to where you want to be. For me, taking a year out meant that I had the opportunity to focus on improving my research skills. I also had more free time to pursue my extra-curricular interests.


Do the points you gain make a difference?

Completing an intercalated degree can give you points towards your foundation programme application. The more points you have, the more likely you are to be allocated your preferred location for foundation year training. However, the majority of the points are awarded based on your academic performance at medical school, and performance in the situational judgement test. Therefore, it is important to have a deeper reason for undertaking an intercalated degree. The year is long! To receive the points, you need to get through the year and pass the intercalated degree. This will be difficult if you are not truly interested in the subject.


To summarise, the intercalation year allows you to explore a new subject area and develop new skills! The free time also gives you the opportunity to get more involved in extra-curricular activities. A year away from medicine has allowed me to truly appreciate the medical degree and I am feeling excited for my return! There is nothing else I would rather be studying.


If you would like more information about intercalation at the University of Manchester, please visit: https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/medicine/your-studies/intercalation/

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