Can Medical School Be Done Part-Time?

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.

Attending medical school part-time could be a great way to balance study and other commitments you may have.

But, is it possible to study medicine part-time so that you have more time for paid work, family, or other interests?

Medical school in the UK cannot be done part-time. Studying medicine at university is a full-time commitment and there are currently no part-time courses available in the UK. Students are however able to take time out if required for their health, mental health, or special circumstances.

Although there aren’t any medicine courses in the UK that routinely offer part-time study as an option, there are situations in which a medical school may grant you the opportunity to take time away from being a full-time student.

In this article, I’m going to explore when this can be a possibility as well as looking at if it’s possible to take years out of medical school.

Can You Study Medicine Part-Time?

Medical school is somewhat infamous for being a bit of a slog, so the prospect of getting to study part-time and having more time for your family, employment or pursuing hobbies may be a very appealing prospect.

Unfortunately, this isn’t routinely an option for students in the UK.

To study medicine in the UK, universities will expect a full-time commitment from you as the student.

Interestingly, the General Medical Council (GMC) actually specifically state that they wouldn’t have a problem with a student completing a part-time medical degree:

“We do not object to students completing a medical course in a part time/less than full time mode… as long as the medical school is assured [by our] requirements.”

This quote is in relation to the prospect of a disabled learner completing their medical course part-time, but I can’t see any reason why the same wouldn’t apply to someone wanting to study part-time due to childcare requirements.

The GMC does however then go on to say:

“There are no part time medical courses in the UK at the moment. Any part time course would need to go through our approval process for new programmes.”

So, it seems as if the GMC would support a university submitting a part-time curriculum for their consideration, but as it stands there aren’t any out there.

Part-Time Study In Special Circumstances

Now, although there aren’t any official ‘full’ part-time degrees, it may still be possible to attend medical school part-time under special circumstances.

This might be offered to a student if they’re struggling with:

  • Their mental health
  • Their physical health
  • The death of a loved one
  • Their children’s wellbeing

… Among other things. For example, after a serious head injury, people can find concentrating for extended periods of time very difficult.

A group of medical students studying together

During the rehabilitation phase of a student who’s suffered such a head injury, they may be offered the opportunity to attend lectures part-time while they recover.

The key with these circumstances however is that individuals are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

There are no rules set in stone as to what will guarantee you part-time medical school study as everything is at a university’s discretion.

Can You Take A Year Out Of Medical School?

Over the course of a 5 or 6-year medical degree, is it possible to take a year out?

Students can take a year out of medical school to complete an intercalated study year or in special circumstances such as deteriorating health or well-being. Generally, a student isn’t able to take a year out of their studies just to pursue other hobbies or interests they may have.

If you haven’t come across the concept before, an intercalated year during medical school is essentially a year out of the course that you can take to potentially study a completely different subject at a different university.

For example, while studying medicine at the University of Leicester, I had a friend go and study education theory at the University of York for a year, before returning to continue his medical degree.

Intercalated degrees are offered by the vast majority of medical schools in the UK and the intercalated year itself is most often taken between the 3rd and 4th year.

So, for example, your time at university would look like this:

  • 1st year at medical school
  • 2nd year at medical school
  • 3rd year at medical school
  • Intercalated year
  • 4th year at medical school
  • 5th year at medical school

By intercalating a year, you’re taking a year out of medical school but you are adding a year onto the length of time it will take you to become a doctor.

Equally, students can be granted permission to take a year out for personal reasons.

Many of the same reasons discussed above, which could result in a student studying part-time, may cause a university to offer a student the chance to take a year out of their medical studies.

“I do actually feel quite refreshed and not as mentally burnt out as I was. My confidence in myself has improved quite a lot and the majority of the depressive symptoms are now gone.”

– Anonymous Student Room user who took a year out of medical school

Mental health is one of the most common reasons students require time away from the course, with the pressure of stringent medical exams often compounding other issues.

Just like with part-time study however, the option of taking a year out is granted at the discretion of the university you’re attending.

If you fail multiple exams at medical school due to stress, you might be able to take a step back for a year or you could be removed from the course.

A Medical Course That Can Be Studied Part-Time

There is in fact a singular medical degree (that I’m aware of) in the UK that can be studied part-time.

The reason I haven’t mentioned it till now is because it’s only open to a very select group of individuals.

I’m referring to the University of Edinburgh’s HCP-Med course.

A medical degree that’s studied part-time (and mostly online) for the first three years.

Skyline of Edinburgh buildings

In order to be accepted, you have to be a current healthcare professional or clinical scientist living and working in Scotland.

The first 3 years of the course are part-time, allowing you to continue working as a healthcare professional whilst you’re studying.

After successfully passing the course’s 3rd-year assessments, you then join the 4th and 5th years of Edinburgh’s main medical degree- which demands full-time study.

I think it’s a brilliant way to recruit more healthcare professionals into medicine- which will hopefully help start addressing the significant shortage of doctors.

I really wouldn’t be surprised if more medical schools start to offer similar programmes after Edinburgh made this innovative step forward by enrolling the first students in 2020.

Final Thoughts

Although medical school generally can’t be done part-time, you may be surprised by how much time you actually have while studying.

Although your learning in the final years does undoubtedly become more intense, I found that the first few years on an undergraduate medical course left plenty of time for socialising or pursuing my hobbies.

If you do have a serious reason for wanting to study part-time at medical school you likely be allowed to, but it may be unrealistic to approach a university with the prospect of studying the full course in such a manner.

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.