In the second blog of this series we consider some of the course related factors that need to be considered by prospective medical students.

Course length and qualifications

The standard medical course (for school leavers) is usually five years long. There are over 30 UK institutions offering standard courses, which lead to a variety of primary medical qualifications – MBchB, MBBS, BMBS, MBBCh, MBBChir, BMBCh. While this variety can appear confusing, students can rest assured that these qualifications are all variations of ‘Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery’ and are all validated by the GMC (General Medical Council).

At some universities (Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial) an extra 6th year of study leads to an intercalated or additional degree as a compulsory part of the course. This extra qualification is optional at many more medical schools, although it is worth noting that selection for the intercalation programme may be competitive and only open to the top ranking students in the year.

For students who have high academic achievement but who don’t hold the science subjects required for entry to a Standard course there is the option to apply to a six-year ‘Medicine with a Preliminary Year’ course. These are either Standard Entry courses with an additional year at the start, or sometimes the preliminary year is taken as a standalone one-year course. This is not an option for students who haven’t achieved the required grades to meet the entry requirements of Standard courses.


How much a medical course will cost you in tuition fees depends on whether you are classed as a Home/EU fee payer or an Overseas fee payer and on the institution you apply to. The difference in fees for Home and Overseas students is substantial (for more information read our ‘fee status’ blogs) and to further complicate matters there are different fee systems in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The universities will assess each student’s application for Home/EU fees on their own merits. Home/EU students are responsible for their tuition fees in the pre-clinical years but the NHS pays the tuition fees for years 5 and 6 in full.

Type of course

 Although all UK medical schools adhere to standards set by the GMC each course is different and each uses different teaching methods. It is therefore very important that applicants think carefully about the type of learning that would suit them best. Courses can generally be divided into:

  •  Traditional pre-clinical and clinical – as practised by Oxford and Cambridge. These courses start with 2 years of mainly lectures and tutorials covering science based modules. These are followed by three years of a clinical course which will include GP placements and hospital work in addition to subject based lectures. This course structure often appeals to students who wish to have a solid grounding in the science before much patient interaction.
  • Integrated – this method is now practised by the majority of medical schools and combines theory with patient contact from the very start of the course. In contrast to the traditional courses, scientific knowledge is taught by topic rather than discipline. Integrated courses can be further subdivided into those that specialise in Problem-based learning (PBL), Case-based learning (CBL) and Enquiry-based learning (EBL) all of which may appeal to the student who is a good independent learner and proactive in their approach to  study.
    • PBL is practised by Manchester, Glasgow, Queen Mary, Peninsula, Sheffield, Keele, Hull and York, Barts and East Anglia. Here the emphasis is on peer-to-peer teaching, small group learning and problem solving. Different medical schools use PBL to a greater or lesser extent, some teaching entirely by PBL with others using the method only occasionally.
    • CBL is offered by Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow. This is very similar to PBL and uses virtual ‘trigger’ cases to prompt learning of a particular area of the curriculum.
    • Enquiry-based learning (EBL) as practised by Birmingham.  Again this is similar to PBL but learning starts with the posing of questions, problems or scenarios.


As well as differing in terms of teaching style, structure and patient contact, UK medical schools also differ in their methods of selection. Research is key in order for students to fit themselves to the school that best suits them and we will consider some of these differences in the next blog.