Studying Medicine Abroad
15th August 2016: For advice if you are considering studying medicine abroad for the first time this week, please visit our blog where we outline the key issues you need to consider.
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Will my foreign medical degree be recognised in the UK?
This is a highly important consideration when choosing to study medicine abroad. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information that we give you in this respect and so would advise you to check with General Medical Council about the suitability of any particular university's medicine qualifications.
However, we can confirm that there are many medical schools around the world that specialise in teaching international students. Many of these universities' graduates are working in the UK healthcare sector although often they may have amassed considerable experience abroad in addition to their studies.
All qualifications taught within the European Union should be judged as equal (see EU Directive 2005/36/CE for further details) but it is worth checking with the GMC as they will know more about the relative quality of medical qualifications than we can. Qualifications taught outside the EU may well be recognised but students will have to take professional examinations before they can work in the United Kingdom.
We certainly know universities whose qualifications are recognised by the GMC, and whose quality of teaching is recognised worldwide. These universities are not soft options. Going abroad is not recommended under any circumstances to students who would be incapable of following a UK medical degree or who are not fully committed to becoming a doctor.
Does it make sense to study medicine abroad?
Let's be honest, most British students who go abroad to study medicine have first of all tried to get in to a medical school in this country. As you will no doubt know by now, there are far more students who wish to study medicine than there are places available. Even the best exam results you could ever achieve may not be enough to get you a place and a lot of people miss out for reasons that are not a reflection on their ability or passion for the profession. Students who miss out are often encouraged to reapply in the UK; this just adds to the pressure for places year on year and while it may be an advisable strategy as it gives you time to gain additional experience, it is not the only one. You don't need to put your life on hold because of the British university admissions system.
Graduate entry routes into medicine are few and far between. Some universities may allow transfer into the later stages (usually 2nd year) of a 5 or 6 year MBBS qualification but this will often depend on your ability in the local language. Credit recognition is at the discretion of the international medical school and no third party can ever give you guaranteed advice about this. In our experience, transfers are extremely difficult to arrange, particularly if you have studied outside the European Union.
If you are passionate about becoming a doctor and you want to get straight on with your studies, there are universities abroad that can help you. You need to be careful in your choice of university but there are some highly reputable medical schools that can help you achieve your dream and your objectives.
What grades do I need to get in to medical school abroad?
Good ones. And often these will not be enough. The main reason why we say this is because it is tough to follow a medical degree abroad and you must be academically capable. Otherwise you will be wasting your time. Some medical universities will accept you with less than perfect grades if they perceive that you have a passion for the subject and you can demonstrate your ability in other ways.
The actual entrance requirements vary quite dramatically. Universities in Central Europe often have their own entrance exams although apparently in Bulgaria and Romania these are not always required. The exams in these countries typically consist of a multiple choice exam in chemistry and biology. If you can get a good grade at A' level in these subjects you shouldn't have any trouble passing the exam. Some universities also have exams in maths and/or physics. To give some examples, Cardenal Herrera University in Spain requires AAB (including chemistry and biology) or a 2.1 in BSc Biomedical Science. Universities in Italy require you to have three A levels in any subjects and with any grade. As a result, there is quite a high number of unsuitable candidates applying to Italian universities.
There are apparently some universities that will accept students with BTECs but we do not have any direct experience of success with these. They are definitely not accepted in Italy, Spain or Cyprus. To be the best of our knowledge, Access to HE qualifications are not accepted anywhere abroad.
Public and private universities in Italy select students purely on the basis of their results in the entrance exam. The deadline for these universities vary and the exams currently takes place in January in the United Kingdom for Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore . If you performed exceptionally well in your UK exams but were perhaps let down by your interview performance, these could be options for you. Applications for 2016 are now closed as the entrance exam took place in January. Further information about this university is available here.
Some countries have entrance requirements that British students are extremely unlikely to meet. For example, the University of Malta is a very popular option because it does not charge tuition fees. However, you will not even be considered for entry without an A or AS level in a humanities subject in addition to maths and sciences. This could however be a viable option for students with the International Baccalaureate.
The European University of Cyprus does not have an entrance exam. Students will be assessed on their A level grades as well as their performance at interview. This university probably has the closest application process to UK universities. It is the only medical school we know of that places value on work experience, extracurricular activies in the selection process. Successful applicants receive conditional offers much as they would do in the United Kingdom. We are able to advise you in more detail of the application process at EUC. Please contact us for an assessment of your chances.
What else should I bear in mind?
There is usually a disadvantage involved in studying medicine abroad.
Cost can be a major issue when thinking about studying medicine abroad, but not always. It is highly likely that you will have to fund the cost of your education from your own resources, however. A private university in Italy might charge €10,000 a year and one in Cyprus or Spain will be closer to €20,000 a year and you will need to be confident that you can cover the cost of your studies and associated living costs. (If you think this is expensive, you might want to bear in mind that private medical schools in the UK charge closer to £35,000 a year.)
Language can be another issue. If you go abroad, you might very well be able to study in English but you cannot expect your patients to speak English. This is not an issue in the pre-clinical years but you will be expected to learn the local language by the time you enter your fourth year (at the latest). Most universities will ensure that a translator is present during any patient consultations but you will be expected to communicate with your patients and take medical histories etc. We are contacted regularly by British students who do not want to learn a language yet are looking for medical schools in continental Europe. In our opinion, if you are not willing to learn, you should not be thinking about studying abroad.
You should also bear in mind that getting into medical school is one thing but actually graduating is something else altogether. Many medical schools will overrecruit at the beginning of the cycle, knowing full well that students will drop out, fail, transfer throughout the process. We would advise any applicant to question how many students in the first year intake actually go on to graduate. We would only recommend medical schools where these numbers are broadly similar and not too large. It is also worth paying attention to the average time it takes for students to graduate because this may be longer than the five or six years you would be expecting to study.
If you cannot find a place in the UK you may wish to take a general science undergraduate qualification and then look to study medicine at postgraduate level. However, the sheer number of students who contact us every year looking for graduate entry abroad suggests that this route in no way improves your chances of becoming a doctor via British medical schools. As a result, we cannot in good conscience recommend that you take a BSc in Biomedical Science if your ultimate career goal is to become a doctor, particularly given the cost involved in studying at an English university. At best, your three years in the UK might get you one year off a 6 year degree abroad but, just as likely, it might not make any difference at all. In fact, we know some international medical schools who prioritise the recruitment of A' level students over biomedical science graduates.
Can I start my medical studies abroad and transfer to a British medical school later?
Almost certainly not. It can be very difficult to transfer between universities. If you are planning on starting your medical studies abroad with a view to moving to a British medical school you are likely to be disappointed. In some cases, transferring is impossible because of the different ways in which medicine is taught.
It is also increasingly difficult to come back to the UK and find an FY1 or FY2 training contract. We often tell students to expect to remain abroad until they are fully qualified, at which point there should not be any obstacle to finding a job in the UK.
Do I need to use an agent to get a place at a medical school abroad?
There are a number of education agents operating in the UK who offer to find students places at international medical schools. Some of these agents offer guaranteed admission. If an agent can guarantee admission to a medical school, this is unlikely to be a sign or either quality or sensible class sizes.
In our experience it is often unnecessary to use a UK-based agent. However, the customer support of some international medical schools leaves a lot to be desired and you might find it easier to apply through an intermediary. It is worth checking in advance exactly which fees would be payable by you as the student and exactly which services the agent is authorised to offer.
It should not be necessary to pay a fee to an agent simply for putting an application forward although it is not unreasonable for an agent to charge a small fee which will be refunded if you take up the offer of a place secured for you. As students are likely to apply to multiple medical schools abroad this is just a way to cut down on purely speculative applications that create unnecessary administration both for the agent and the international medical school.
There are some services you will have to pay for. These might include the cost of sitting any entrance exam and the translation and certification of any documents required to support your application. Most services an agent can provide are only relevant once you have accepted an offer so it shouldn't be necessary to pay for such services until you reach that point in the process. If an agent is asking for thousands of pounds just to put forward an application it is highly likely that you can find a more reputable partner elsewhere. We are aware that many agents of Bulgarian medical schools in particular are engaged in price competition at the moment. We don't work with any Bulgarian or Romanian medical schools.
We work as a representative of Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and here there is no charge payable to us. You would need to pay to sit the entrance exam, however.
We also represent the European University of Cyprus and can advise you on the application process there at no cost. There is a minimal application fee but this is paid directly to the university, not to us.
Where should I look for medicine degrees abroad?
There are two main regions where you can look for universities that welcome applications from British medicine students and there are two emerging regions: the Caribbean and Central Europe are well established but there are an increasing number of options for British students elsewhere in Europe and Australia. It is also possible to study in Ireland but the entry requirements are extremely high. If you cannot get a place at a British medical school, you are unlikely to find a solution in Ireland. You can search for all medical degrees taught in English on our website. We do not list most options in Bulgaria and Romania but they are proving to be popular for British students, primarily for financial reasons.
Medical schools in the Caribbean often follow the American education system and many students there go on to do their residencies in US hospitals. These universities are considerably more expensive than studying in the United Kingdom. The total tuition costs of a five-year programme at a medical school in the Caribbean are likely to be around US$250,000. This is still considerably cheaper than studying medicine in the USA.
Medical schools in Central Europe have developed an excellent reputation over the last 20 years of offering education in English. Some of these locations may seem a little run down but the teaching methods are often world class. There are currently around 25 universities in Central Europe offering medical qualifications in English. There are also medical schools in Ukraine and Russia but there are recognition issues with some of these institutions and the current political climate hardly recommends these countries as sensible study destinations.
There are an increasing number of options for studying medicine in Western Europe and the Mediterranean.
The University of Groningen in The Netherlands offers a standard BSc degree in medical science. This does not qualify you to become a doctor but successful completion of this degree means you can go on to take their Masters in medicine. The downsides of this route are that the Masters is taught only in Dutch and there are very few places available; you will be competing with domestic students for places. As the approach to learning at Groningen is very different to most UK medical schools it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to transfer to an English-speaking medical school to complete your studies. However, learning Dutch is an integral part of the degree and you will not be left on your own to learn outside your studies. Maastricht University also has a similar programme.
Elsewhere in Southern Europe there are a number of universities in Italy, Malta and Cyprus that offer you the chance to qualify as a doctor. There are six public universities in Italy that teach medicine in English (Milan, Pavia,two in Rome, Naples and Bari) with means-tested tuition fees of between €800 and €3,000 per year. However, the entry requirements can be quite complicated and the number of applicants far exceeds the number of places available. Currently the public universities select students by using the IMAT exam (international version of BMAT). The exam in 2015 took place in September, just before the course itself started. In 2015 there were 3,918 applicants for 204 places although it is fair to say that a large number of these applicants were wholly unsuitable. This is hardly ideal for international students. There is also some suggestion that from 2016 the entrance exam for public universities will be removed and you will literally be able to enrol directly for the course without any controls. The downside of this is that the class sizes will probably explode and the number of students gaining access to the second year will be heavily restricted. This could end up mirroring the French medical school situation where 90% of first year candidates do not get a place in the second year (France doesn't offer medicine in English at all). It may therefore be easier to get in to a public university in future but it would be difficult to recommend it.
Private universities in Italy might offer an easier route to a medical qualification. Their fees are higher (€6,850-€15,000 per year) but they are also means-tested and financial aid can be available in some cases. In our experience British students usually end up paying around €10,000 a year.
It is now possible to study medicine in Spain partially in English. There is no possibility to study entirely in English at this time. It certainly will not change until the summer of 2016. Cardenal Herrera University in Valencia offers students the chance to study in English for two years before completing the next four years in Spanish.
In Valencia there is now a pre-med route for students looking to access medical degrees in public and private universities taught in a mix of English and Spanish. This course helps students reach the required level of the Selectividad (national school leaving certificate) and also includes intensive language lessons. We have some initial information on this opportunity available on our site but more will follow soon. Please contact us for more details about this.
From 2016 it will also be possible to take the first two years of a Bulgarian medical degree in Italy, either in Rome or just outside Milan. This would reduce the amount of time that you would need to spend in Bulgaria. The degree would be awarded by the Medical University of Sofia. We will have more information about this opportunity soon.
Studying medicine in Australia or New Zealand is possible but it will be expensive and your chances of getting in are very low. Most countries in the Anglophone world have a shortage of places in their medical schools. Some universities in Australia are able to accept a limited number of British students but tuition fees will be similar to the cost of studying in the Caribbean. The cheapest option of which we are aware charges fees of around £22,000 per year at current exchange rates but others can be as much as £35,000. Employment prospects for doctors in Australia are excellent, however.
In the USA most students complete a general science or pre-med undergraduate degree and then go on to medical school at postgraduate level. This is an incredibly expensive route to follow - the estimated total cost for students at Johns Hopkins Medical School is around $300,000 for the four years you need to study there. Medical schools in the USA are extremely unlikely to accept students who have completed their undergraduate studies at a non-US university. However, there are some routes for students who have not studied science at undergraduate level to enter a fast-track progression towards a career as a doctor. These will not work out particularly cheap but if you have studied history, for example, and subsequently decided you wish to become a doctor, there is a pathway in the USA that accommodates this.