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17 Alternatives To Medical School (Careers Beyond Medicine)

17 Alternatives To Medical School (Careers Beyond Medicine)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Although when you’re applying to medicine it can seem like the be-all and end-all, there are in fact loads of brilliant alternatives to going to medical school.

I’ve got friends in nearly every one of these alternatives and they all absolutely love their jobs- so not becoming a doctor is in no way going to condemn you to a life of misery!

If you don’t end up getting into medical school, or decide that you don’t think medicine is actually for you, you might want to have a look at some of the alternatives on this list as one may offer just what you were looking for in a career.

Nursing

Nursing is an excellent alternative to medical school that has a huge overlap with the caring aspect of practising medicine.

As a nurse, you’ll play a vital role in patient care and work closely with doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Just like in medicine, there are various nursing specialisations to choose from based on your interests and skills.

For instance, you can work as a paediatric nurse, mental health nurse, or surgical nurse, among loads of others.

A nurse providing care to a patient
A nurse setting up an IV line for a patient

You can also pretty much choose your working environment, with opportunities in hospitals, GP practices, community health centres, schools, prisons, and even patients’ homes.

To become a nurse, you’ll need to complete a nursing degree from a recognised university.

The course typically lasts for three years and combines classroom learning with practical, hands-on experience.

With more than just symptom management, your role as a nurse will include providing emotional support to patients and their families.

You’ll also contribute to the overall healthcare team by helping to plan and evaluate care as it’s delivered.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy focuses on the rehabilitation of patients with physical injuries, disabilities, or chronic health conditions.

By using various techniques, including exercises, joint mobilisation, and therapeutic massage, physiotherapists help patients regain mobility and improve their quality of life.

As an alternative to medicine, I’d say it’s a particularly good option if you like sports and enjoy learning about the human body.

To become a physiotherapist in the UK, you’ll need to complete a three to four-year undergraduate degree in physiotherapy, which is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Some of the key subjects that you’ll study during the course include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and clinical reasoning.

The course also incorporates substantial practical placements, allowing you to gain hands-on experience in real-world settings.

Physiotherapy offers loads of career opportunities, such as working in hospitals, clinics, private practices, or sports clubs.

Additionally, you can choose to specialise in specific areas like paediatrics, neurology, sports therapy or elderly care.

In comparison to medical school, pursuing physiotherapy typically involves a shorter duration of study and often comes with less academic pressure.

If you’re more inclined towards an active, hands-on treatment approach, and enjoy problem-solving, physiotherapy might be the right choice for you.

Dietician

As a dietician, you’ll play a vital role in the NHS and healthcare in general.

I think dietetics is an excellent alternative to medical school if you’re passionate about improving people’s health through nutrition and dietary plans.

With a focus on promoting healthy eating habits and preventing diseases, dieticians work closely with patients to create tailored meal plans and offer expert advice.

To become a registered dietician, you’ll need to complete a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics or a related field.

This provides you with the foundational knowledge required to work in the field.

Some universities also offer postgraduate dietetics programmes, which may be an ideal choice if you have a Bachelor’s degree in a different subject.

Whichever type of course you choose, you’ll gain essential skills and knowledge in various areas, including human anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, and food science.

Once you’ve completed your degree and registered with the relevant professional body, such as the British Dietetic Association (BDA), the world is pretty much your oyster.

By advising your patients on sensible and evidence-based food choices, you’ll massively contribute to improving their health and overall well-being.

Additionally, dieticians have the opportunity to work in public health, focusing on community nutrition programmes and strategies to tackle various health issues such as obesity and diabetes.

Pharmacist

As a pharmacy student, you’ll study the properties, effects, and mechanisms of drug actions in the body.

You’ll explore various aspects of drug discovery and development, including medicinal chemistry, pharmacokinetics, and therapeutic drug classes.

You’ll learn how to use your knowledge to develop new drugs, understand how they interact with biological systems, and evaluate their effectiveness and safety.

Upon graduating with a pharmacy degree, you can pretty much choose to pursue whatever areas interest you the most- from research and development to clinical trials to drug regulation, or even teaching and academia.

Pharmacy courses can also serve as a stepping stone to further specialised qualifications, such as becoming an advanced practitioner, allowing you to further your expertise and career prospects.

If you’re passionate about science and want a career that focuses on understanding and improving drug therapies, I’d consider becoming a pharmacist rather than going to medical school.

Occupational Therapist

As an occupational therapist, you’ll play a vital role in helping individuals of all ages overcome physical, mental, and emotional challenges that prevent them from carrying out everyday activities.

Your primary goal is to improve your patients’ quality of life and enable them to achieve the highest possible level of independence.

During your practice, you’ll work with a huge range of people, often as part of a multidisciplinary team.

This may include people with various illnesses, injuries, disabilities, or age-related difficulties.

By crafting tailor-made treatment plans, you can help them regain specific abilities or learn new techniques to perform routine tasks.

This may involve the use of adaptive equipment, developing fine motor skills, or providing support for anxiety and stress management.

To pursue a career as an occupational therapist, you’ll need to complete a degree in occupational therapy approved by the Health and Care Professions Council.

This could be either an undergraduate (BSc) or a postgraduate (MSc) course.

From what I know about occupational therapy, it seems like it would offer a rewarding and varied alternative to medical school while still maintaining a strong focus on improving the lives of individuals facing various challenges.

Biomedical Science

Biomedical Science is a classic alternative to medical school that thousands of students land on every year.

This discipline focuses on the study of human biology, health, and disease, providing a solid foundation for understanding the mechanisms underlying various medical conditions.

In a Biomedical Science programme, you can expect to delve into subjects such as microbiology, genetics, pharmacology, and bioengineering.

By studying Biomedical Science at university, you can open the door to a huge variety of career opportunities within the healthcare sector.

Some of these options include working as a clinical scientist, research scientist or pharmaceutical representative.

Additionally, if you later decide that you do want to study medicine, your Biomedical Science background can act as an ideal stepping stone towards graduate entry into medical school.

Lots of students also choose to progress to a master’s or doctorate programme in their chosen area of specialisation, such as neuroscience, immunology, or molecular biology.

Radiography

Radiography is a fascinating alternative to medical school that allows you to work at the intersection of healthcare and technology.

In this field, you’ll treat human illness and injuries using radiation techniques to scan the human body for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

There are two types of radiography you can specialise in: diagnostic radiography and therapeutic radiography.

In diagnostic radiography, you’ll work with X-ray equipment and other imaging technologies to help doctors diagnose a range of conditions.

Therapeutic radiography, on the other hand, involves the use of radiation to treat cancer and other diseases, working as part of a wider oncology team.

To pursue a career in radiography, you’ll need to complete an undergraduate degree in the subject, during which you’ll gain a deep understanding of the anatomy of the human body and develop practical skills in using advanced imaging systems.

Radiography entry requirements usually include a minimum number of UCAS points, as well as specific A-level subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, or maths.

These may vary depending on the university and course type, so it’s best to research the specific requirements for the universities you’re interested in.

Pursuing a career in radiography lets you play a vital role in patient care, while also staying at the cutting edge of medical technology.

Audiology

One of my best friends studied audiology as a postgraduate and it led him to New Zealand where he ended up meeting his now wife.

On that evidence alone, I’d say audiology is an alternative to medical school worth considering!

As an audiologist, you’ll become a hearing healthcare professional, diagnosing hearing loss and balance system dysfunction in infants, teenagers, adults, and the elderly.

You can enter audiology with various qualifications, from GCSEs to a relevant honours degree.

Audiologists can work in clinics, hospitals, and universities, or even establish their own private practice.

A patient having a hearing aid fitted

Some audiologists may also choose to focus on research, contributing to the ongoing development of diagnostic tools, techniques and treatments for hearing impairment.

As an audiologist, you’ll need excellent communication and interpersonal skills, as well as empathy and patience, to work effectively with patients experiencing hearing problems.

As you can see, this has a lot of overlap with the skills needed to study medicine.

As an audiologist, you’ll be equipped with the skills and knowledge to make a difference in people’s lives, helping them to effectively manage hearing issues and improve their overall quality of life.

Psychology

I’ve personally always found psychology fascinating, so if you’re considering alternatives to medical school I think studying psychology could be a great option.

As a branch of science that deals with the human mind and behaviour, psychology offers a wide range of career opportunities in healthcare and beyond.

By studying psychology, you can deepen your understanding of human behaviour, mental processes, and how individuals behave in different situations.

One great reason to get a degree in psychology is the diverse specialisations available to you.

You can choose to focus on clinical psychology, counselling psychology, neuropsychology, or even health psychology, to name a few.

This variety allows you to tailor your studies according to your interests and career aspirations.

A career as a clinical psychologist, for example, enables you to work closely with patients experiencing mental health issues.

In this role, you’ll use your knowledge and skills to assess, diagnose, and treat various psychological disorders.

In addition to clinical roles, studying psychology can also lead to opportunities in research, academia, and even the corporate world.

Understanding human behaviour and mental processes can be invaluable across various industries, as it helps improve communication, motivation, and productivity.

Human Biology

If you’re interested in the human body and its functions but don’t want to go to medical school, there are several alternative career paths you can consider within the field of human biology:

Educator: Sharing your knowledge and expertise about human biology can be fulfilling and help shape future professionals in the field. You might choose to work as a teacher in a public or private school, or you could become a lecturer at a university.

Health/Biology Content Writer: With your knowledge of human biology, you can contribute to the dissemination of accurate and up-to-date information about the subject. This can involve creating content for websites, blogs, educational materials, and even scientific research papers.

Food Science: Human biology intersects with food science in several ways, such as nutrition and food processing. By studying human biology, you can better understand the science behind food and contribute to advancements in food-producing industries.

Environmental Science: By understanding human biology, you can contribute to research and projects in environmental science, where you might assess the impact of various environmental factors on human health.

Forensic Science: A human biology background can also find applications in forensic science. Here, you can aid in solving crimes and contribute to the justice system by analysing biological evidence, such as DNA or blood samples.

Speech And Language Therapy

As you consider alternatives to medical school, I think one option that’s worth exploring is a career in speech and language therapy.

I’ve got a very good friend who’s actually just started a Master’s in Speech and Language Therapy at Leeds.

Speech and language therapists (SLTs) play a crucial role in helping people with communication, eating, drinking, and swallowing difficulties.

Working with both children and adults, SLTs support individuals with various challenges such as language disorders, voice problems, neurological impairments, and developmental conditions.

During a Speech and Language course, you’ll learn to assess, diagnose, and treat various speech, language, and swallowing issues and develop a strong foundation in both theoretical and practical knowledge.

Clinical placements will also be an integral part of your education, providing valuable hands-on experience in real-world settings.

Once qualified, you’ll collaborate with various professionals including doctors, nurses, teachers, and psychologists to support patients in overcoming their challenges and improving their quality of life.

My friend really enjoyed her first term at Leeds and I can totally understand why!

Art Therapy

Art therapy is a creative and alternative path for those considering a career other than medical school.

As an art therapist, you would use various forms of artistic expression to help individuals address emotional, mental, and psychological challenges.

You’d work with people of all ages, including children and young people experiencing social, emotional, and mental health difficulties, often in school-based settings.

My aunt is actually an art therapist and always has some incredibly interesting stories from her work.

The main types of arts and creative therapies in the UK include dance movement therapy, drama therapy, music therapy, and visual art therapy.

Each of these therapies involves a different artistic medium to promote self-expression, personal growth, and emotional healing.

To become an art therapist in the UK, you will need to complete a postgraduate qualification in art therapy, approved by the HCPC.

This typically takes up to two years to complete, followed by professional registration.

With a variety of creative mediums to work with and the opportunity to help individuals overcome complex challenges, art therapy could be a great alternative to medical school if you’ve got a strong creative side.

Optometry

Optometry involves examining the eyes and visual system, diagnosing problems, and prescribing corrective lenses or other treatments to maintain good vision and eye health.

To become an optometrist, you’ll need to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Optometry, which typically takes three years.

Some universities offer integrated foundation years or part-time study options, which can extend the duration of the degree to four years or more.

During your Optometry degree, you’ll study various subjects related to the eye and vision.

These can include anatomy and physiology of the eye, optics, visual perception, and diseases of the eye.

A doctor examining a patient's eyes
An optometrist examining a patient’s eyes

Additionally, you’ll gain practical skills in examining the eyes and prescribing the appropriate treatments or corrective devices.

Upon completion of your degree, you will be required to undertake a period of pre-registration professional training and pass a series of examinations before becoming a fully qualified optometrist.

With a shorter educational pathway compared to becoming a doctor and diverse career opportunities, I think a lot of students might be drawn to optometry as a more time-efficient alternative to medical school.

Osteopathy

Osteopaths focus on the body’s musculoskeletal structure to diagnose and treat various health conditions.

The practice is known for its holistic approach and uses manual techniques such as stretching, massage, and joint manipulation to promote overall well-being.

To become an osteopath, you’ll need to complete a four-year degree programme, such as a Master of Osteopathy (MOst) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Osteopathy.

During the first two years of your studies, you’ll cover pre-clinical subjects including anatomy, medical diagnosis, and physiology.

Upon graduating, you’ll need to register with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) to practice as a qualified osteopath.

The GOsC is responsible for maintaining a high standard of training and professional conduct among osteopaths, ensuring that you’re well-prepared for your new career.

Throughout your osteopathy course, you’ll learn various hands-on techniques and explore the connections between body systems.

This will give you the tools to assess your patients holistically and effectively treat their symptoms.

Furthermore, you’ll develop key communication and interpersonal skills that will help you build trust with your patients and develop a good bedside manner.

Although I’ve only met a few osteopaths in my work, osteopathy seems like it would offer a unique and rewarding career path for those seeking an alternative to traditional medical school.

Counselling

Counselling is a great alternative career path for those interested in helping others in a healthcare environment, but not specifically in a medical capacity.

As a counsellor, you’ll work closely with clients to support their emotional and psychological well-being.

To become a counsellor, you will typically need to obtain a diploma or degree in counselling or psychotherapy.

These programmes often involve a combination of theoretical study and practical experience, allowing you to develop essential counselling skills and techniques.

There are various specialised fields within counselling, including mental health, family and relationships, addiction, and career guidance.

Depending on your area of interest, you may choose to further your education and training in one of these subfields to become a more specialised practitioner.

Counselling can be a hugely rewarding career choice for those who have a strong desire to help others, especially in times of distress and personal challenges.

With a focus on listening, empathy, and providing guidance, if you feel like you’re naturally pretty good at these things it could be a great alternative to medical school for you.

Paramedic Science

Paramedic Science offers a fantastic alternative to medical school if you’re looking to start a career in the fast-paced world of pre-hospital medicine.

This is the degree you’ll need to do to become a paramedic in the UK.

As a paramedic, you’ll play a crucial role in providing immediate care and making split-second decisions that could save lives.

During your Paramedic Science degree, you’ll study human anatomy and physiology, clinical assessment and treatment, and the principles of emergency care.

Your learning will be underpinned by a combination of classroom-based instruction, practical skills sessions, simulated scenarios, and placements with ambulance services.

The entry requirements for a Paramedic Science degree vary depending on the university.

Generally, you’ll need a good set of A-levels or equivalent qualifications, including a science subject.

Some universities may also require you to pass an interview and demonstrate relevant experience, such as through volunteering or work placements in healthcare.

Midwifery

Midwifery is a field of healthcare that focuses on providing care and support throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period for both mother and baby.

Essentially, if you love babies, it might be the perfect alternative to medical school for you.

As a midwife, you’ll play a crucial role in the safe delivery of babies and in ensuring the well-being of mothers.

You will also have the opportunity to work closely with mothers and families, providing emotional support and guidance during one of the most significant events in their lives.

During a midwifery degree, you’ll cover essential topics such as anatomy and physiology, reproductive health, and neonatal care.

Additionally, you gain practical experience through placements in various healthcare settings, including hospitals and maternity clinics.

Upon completion of your degree, you need to register as a midwife with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

This registration will ensure that you meet the required standards and are competent enough to practice as a midwife in the UK.

Final Thoughts

The best part about almost every one of these alternative careers is that they still allow you to make a significant impact on the lives of others while working in a fulfilling and growing industry.

Despite not studying medicine or becoming a doctor.

Exploring a few of these alternatives to medical school may reveal a path in the medical field that aligns more closely with your aspirations, even if you initially envisioned becoming a doctor.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.