The benefits of BScing - Why you should do an intercalated degree

One of the biggest decisions you will face in your medical school life is whether to spend an extra year doing the intercalated BSc. Let me make that decision easier for you guys - JUST DO IT. Trust me on this one. If you get the opportunity to do one, cling onto it like you never have before. You can thank me later!

OK, so I'm not saying this because at UCL we HAVE to intercalate. I mean, we do have to. However, I think that I would be advocating this even if it wasn't compulsory. And only after finishing the year do I realise the true value of the iBSc, and how fortunate I am to have done it at such a great academic institution.

Therefore, I have made a list of a few reasons why I think you should intercalate if you have the opportunity to do so. The reasons I will write are varied and will appeal to the many kinds of people there are in medical school - some of you (myself included, to an extent) won't do anything unless it is truly useful in the future; others may simply want an opportunity to study a specific area of medicine that they are very passionate about. So here goes...

Note: this information is correct at the time of writing, but may have changed since then - please do check it!

1. You get to study something you are really interested in 
This is pretty obvious, and is one of the top reasons on my list. You can intercalate in essentially any subject you like that is related to Medicine. In the MBBS course, you essentially skim the surface of so many subjects. OK, so it doesn't seem like a 1000 page textbook is 'skimming' the topic, but the point is that you don't really go deeply into any one particular subject. The iBSc gives you an opportunity to work with the leaders of a particular field, and allows you to pursue to a more advanced level the subjects that you enjoy the most.

2. You get a solid background in research and the scientific method 
As a doctor, you have to do research of some kind in the future. Pretty much every doctor will be expected to get involved in it during their careers, and doing an iBSc gives you a good foundation into the scientific method, and teaches you valuable skills like how to read papers and how to conduct experiments.

3. It helps your career. It's not just "one point in FPAS" 
So those may sound a little 'fairy tale'-like - some of you guys probably don't care about doing something unless it directly benefits you in the future. Well, as it turns out, doing an iBSc does exactly that. When you apply for jobs later, you get extra points for doing one of these.

On the foundation programme applications (FPAS), you can get up to 5 points for extra degrees. A 2:1 in an iBSc gets you 3 points, whereas a 1st gets you 4 (out of a total of 100). This may not seem like much, but remember that the most competitive areas need really high scores, so this would help you a long way if you want to work in London as a junior doctor!

Later on, it is worth even more points. At ST3 level, when applying for medical specialties, they use an application score to decide who gets called for interview (kind of like the medicine application process). There are a maximum of 78 points available, and a 2:1 gets you 5 points; a 1st gets you 10. One of the most competitive specialties is Cardiology, and to do this in London, you need around 45 points. The majority of people won't have prizes (max 10 points) or postgraduate degrees (max 10 points), so actually when pushing for these highly competitive programmes, they give you an even greater advantage. The rest of the points are harder to get - they involve getting published, leading audits, and doing all sorts of other impressive stuff in additional to your clinical duties.

Additionally, the skills you learn in the BSc year might help you to get even more points! Having a good background in research will probably help you when you do this in foundation years, and may increase the chance that you get a poster presentation or a publication. So it is possible that, indirectly, you gain an even higher score.

In a nutshell, it benefits you later. It is worth spending a year doing one, but do it in a subject you are genuinely interested in, as you are more likely to get a 1st and gain even more points!

4. It gives you an 'out' 
Pretty much nobody gets into Medicine with the intention of leaving. However, a lot of people have doubts even during the course on whether a career as a doctor is for them. Add this in with all the junior doctor contract stuff that has been happening, and it is easy to see that thinking of alternative careers isn't something that 1/2 of us have thought about doing.

Having a BSc in another subject allows us to have a back up option, and gives us the freedom to pursue an alternative career. Say in fourth year you decide that Medicine isn't for you and you leave. If you don't intercalate, you don't even have a degree that you can use to get work somewhere else!

So in reality, very few people actually leave with their BSc and don't complete the degree. However, it is nice to know that even at a late stage, you do have options.

5. It is free for UK students... sort of. 
So under current rules, you pay 4 years of tuition fees, and the NHS pays the rest. And fortunately, this does extend to the BSc. So essentially, you get a free year of tuition.

Unfortunately, this doesn't apply if you are an international student. As far as I know, only English students can get NHS funding for their course. If you are an international student, then the year will cost you the full tuition fee. In which case, I would strongly think about whether you think it is worth it - if you want to return home after the degree, then it may be wise not to do one as your home country may not give as much credit for doing one. This is something that you will have to think about, and unfortunately I wish I could be of more help!

But overall, you and your career will benefit from the degree and the skills it brings. The degree is more than just a piece of paper and an extra graduation selfie. The skills you learn are invaluable and are highly desirable to your future employers. Modern doctors in England are not just expected to be doctors, but academics and leaders too, and doing research in an area you are fascinated by will only help you to become a good doctor.

This post was originally going to be called 'To BSc or not to BSc'. I thought I was being original and clever with that title, but it turns out that the Student BMJ already published an article with that very same title five years ago (link). In fact, it would probably be useful to give you all some more balanced articles on the subject 


  1. Thank you for this informative post! I was just doing some research on the benefits of having an intercalated year, and this was posted at the right time XD
    Atb to everyone else who is considering medicine!


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