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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

What to expect when studying medicine?

With medicine proving to be a perennially favourite subject amongst international students, it's useful to take a closer look at what the degree involves. We look at everything from costs to curriculum.

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Degrees in medicine continue to sit atop the list of desired qualifications for international students. With a variety of specialisations that can be pursued, good career options and a high level of graduate satisfaction it is clear to see why. Studying to become a medical specialist gives you the opportunity to live and work abroad, while also making a valuable and meaningful contribution to society. However, what’s not always as clear is exactly what a medical degree curriculum and structure looks like or what you can expect. We investigated for you so that you’re in the know if you decide to pursue a programme in the subject.


What are the entry requirements for a medical degree?


Entry into a medical degree programme will differ slightly depending on your destination of study. However, there are some clear commonalities in the way applications are assessed. You’ll need to have a number of key elements in place including:



If you’re thinking of pursuing a medical degree in the United States or Canada, remember that it is only offered as a postgraduate option, requiring that you have completed a pre-medical undergraduate degree in a relevant field to a high standard.  If you have your eye on the UK medicine can be pursued at an undergraduate level, as the qualification combines the elements of a pre-medical degree and postgraduate studies. This is also the case for Australia. However in addition to the requirement of excellent grades, in Australia, you have to undertake an aptitude test and an interview in order to be considered for acceptance.


Find out more about STEM subjects and why they’re important for a medical degree.


How long is a medical degree?


The length of time that it takes you to fully qualify as a doctor will depend on the country in which you pursue your studies. Don’t forget that simply having achieved your bachelor’s or postgraduate degree in medicine doesn’t automatically qualify you to practice independently, as you will need to gain relevant clinical experience. Generally speaking the length of time you’ll study in some of the top destinations will be:


  • UK –  Five or six years for undergraduate medicine
  • Australia – Six years for undergraduate medicine
  • USA –  Four years undergraduate pre-medicine degree (BSc) and four years postgraduate medical qualification.
  • Canada – Four years for undergraduate pre-medicine degree and four years postgraduate medical qualification.



Once you have made it through your academic qualifications the next step to becoming a doctor usually involves a residency or practical placement in a hospital or doctor’s surgery for a period of two years. In the USA and Canada, prior to starting your residency, you have to pass a licensing exam to prove your knowledge.


During the course of your residency, you may develop an interest in a particular area of medicine that you want to specialise in. If so, you’ll have a few more years of studying ahead, between four and six, to become a specialist. You can also check out our comprehensive guide to medical specialisations.


How much does a medical degree cost?


Costs are going to vary considerably between destinations and institutions. There are a number of factors involved that may influence how much you’ll need to spend including tuition, accommodation, transport and destination cost of living. For example, studying in London in the UK is much more expensive than studying in a city like Lincoln. We’ve done some research and averaged the costs of studying medicine as an international student in popular destinations:


  • UK – Between GBP 30,000 and GBP 60,000 per year
  • USA – Between USD 30,000 and USD 70,000 per year
  • Canada – Between USD 30,000 and USD 50,000 per year
  • Australia – Between AUD 30,000 and AUD 70,000 per year


Quite a number of institutions offering medical qualifications do have scholarships and financial aid available for international students so it is worth investigating.


What will I study during a medical degree?


There may be some variation between institutions in terms of how a medical course is structured and what you’ll learn. However, the programmes are fundamentally based on an integrated BSc or MSc curriculum, with compulsory modules required for completion and progression from year to year. The complexity of what you’ll study increases during the duration of your degree and will focus on key competencies for clinical practice and medical knowledge. In the first couple of years, you can expect to study topics such as:


  • Medical ethics
  • The science of medicine (e.g. epidemiology)
  • Anatomy and body architecture
  • Molecular science
  • Biology of the body
  • Physiology
  • Disease


With a solid foundation having been established you’ll move towards learning more about clinical practice, sometimes in a hospital setting. You may also find yourself undertaking elective subjects that are not related to your core degree, such as sociology or political science. This is done to try and equip you with additional knowledge and skills. As you move towards the latter stages of your degree, a large proportion of your time will be spent on clinical studies.  Some of the areas you focus on will be:


  • Pathology
  • Diagnosis
  • Patient care
  • Treatment and therapies
  • Practical and surgical procedures
  • Medical professionalism


One of the hallmarks of studying medicine is that you are often under the tutelage of a professional medical practitioner who will guide and supervise you, as well as evaluate your performance.


Is there a practical component?


In a degree such as medicine, you can reasonably expect a significant practical component. It’s essential that you have the ability and knowledge to deal with complex issues when you are a medical professional, and getting hands-on is the best way. Some of the practical activities you can expect include:


  • Laboratory work
  • Anatomical analysis and evaluation
  • Surgical procedures
  • Patient examination and care in hospitals
  • Treatment of patient conditions
  • Common medical tests (ECG and blood pressure)


Your residency will also form part of the practical component of your studies and this practical element is extended when undertaking a specialisation where you’ll work in a focused area of medicine in a real-world setting.



If studying medicine sounds like it aligns with your interests and skills you can start searching for the perfect course using our course matcher. If you’re still deliberating have a look at some of the popular subjects amongst international students and some of the postgraduate routes international students are electing to take.

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