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Should you intercalate at med-school?

Updated: May 7, 2020

By Junaied Hossain

In simple terms, intercalating involves taking a year out of your medical degree, to give you an opportunity to study a separate medically- relevant course. This can be after the 2nd, 3rd or 4th year of study in Medicine. You’ll then be awarded a separate degree (e.g. BSc, MA, MSc, MRes etc.) after that year of study or research, and then subsequently continue towards completing your medical degree.

Intercalating allows students to expand on interests that are outside the typical scope of a medical degree. However, available courses are all closely related to healthcare or clinical science. Most universities offer intercalated degrees, and for some medical schools, it is compulsory to intercalate and is embedded within the MBChB degree. Information on intercalation and the general benefits of each individual course is readily available on each respective university website. Most students don’t intercalate, however it has been growing in popularity of the last decade – especially for those looking to start early in a career in academic clinical research.

I intercalated into a research-based Master’s degree (MRes Medical Sciences) between my fourth and fifth year of Medicine. The course primarily consists around completing a clinical research project in an area of interest, which was Stroke for myself. The recent COVID-19 pandemic did disrupt my initial project, meaning I’ve had to adapt to the sudden change in climate. Fortunately, I have had the option to complete a new research project that I can do remotely, and which has better chances in being published sooner. Research degrees are primarily focussed on building the skills needed to be an academic clinician or for a PhD. These include understanding how to search for and critique scientific studies, lab experience and scientific writing. I’ve also had the free time to do other things, such as travelling, volunteering and exploring other non-medical interests. Admittedly, the toughest challenge has been not being in hospital each day and seeing patients. I certainly look forward to returning to it, and hopefully I’ve not forgotten too much.

Intercalating benefits those looking to have a period of free time to build up their medical careers, and want to work or volunteer in other areas of interests. My best advice would be to look up all the options on offer, before making any decisions on intercalating. Key things to think about are – whether you prefer lecture-based courses or independent research, as well as the best time to intercalate. It was not something I had really considered until towards the end of my fourth year. Personally, I’d say the best time to intercalate would be after your 3rd year. You have more time to get published, and is easier to readjust back your clinical studies. Nevertheless, I wish you all the best with your medical studies and happy intercalating.

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