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Does It Matter Which Medical School You Go To In The UK?

Does It Matter Which Medical School You Go To In The UK?

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.

When applying to medical school in the UK, one of your most important challenges is narrowing down which universities you want to apply to.

What makes this task even more demanding is not knowing how much of an impact these choices can have on your future as a doctor. In the grand scheme of things, does it matter which medical school you go to?

On the whole, which medical school a student attends will have very little bearing on their future career. All UK medical schools strive for the same standard of graduate, as set by the GMC, and job applications are generally evaluated against exam performances rather than educational prestige.

When applying to medical school, I think it can be very easy to get caught up in the small details of how one university ranks against another for one specific aspect of their course.

I should know as I definitely fell into that trap myself.

Whereas in reality, in my work as a junior doctor where I went to medical school very rarely comes up in conversation with any of my bosses, colleagues or patients.

There are however some factors that will unquestionably influence your future career, some aspects of university life that can be nice to have, and some that will have no bearing on you at all. All of which I’m going to explore in this article.

Does Which University You Go To For Medicine Matter?

The UK has a long history of stratifying its universities, with clear distinctions between the ‘respected’ institutions and the ‘other’ more modern establishments.

At the top end of the spectrum you’ve got Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge), places like Edinburgh, Imperial, UCL, and Kings then not to mention the red brick universities (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield) and the Russell Group universities (a group of twenty-four public research universities).

At the other end of the spectrum are lesser-known institutions and polytechnics (for example Oxford Brookes University or Leeds Beckett University).

Medicine as a degree is somewhat unique here as it’s only offered at a very limited number of universities. Compared to the literal hundreds of tertiary education centres where you could study maths for example.

Because of the fact that all of the limited number of medical schools are held to the same rigorously high standards, the need for employers to stratify medicine graduates by their place of study is greatly reduced.

As a result of this ‘quality assurance’ by the General Medical Council, any UK graduate walking out the door with a medical degree should be at roughly the same level of professional competence as their peers across the country.

A university student watching a medical lecture at her desk

Now, this isn’t to say there’s never going to be any consideration given to where you studied as a doctor. For example, I think there’s always going to be a level of respect given to those graduating from either Oxford or Cambridge.

However, beyond those two universities, there really aren’t any other medical schools that particularly stick out in my mind.

From working alongside a huge range of other junior doctors, there certainly isn’t a noticeable difference in competence between someone who graduated from Liverpool and someone who graduated from Birmingham for example.

The caveat to this is that it only holds true if the doctor studied in the UK.

I had some good friends when I was working in Plymouth who studied in Prague, all of whom were excellent doctors, but there can be a fair amount of variability depending on which country a doctor has studied in.

The UK has one of the highest standards of medical education in the world (even if it doesn’t always feel like that), so graduates from other countries can sometimes fall short of what a British graduate might be expected to achieve.

Factors You Should Consider When Choosing A Medical School

As opposed to titles and reputations then, what are some factors that I would recommend considering when trying to choose a medical school?

Well, the factor that I think should be at the top of your list is whether or not you think you’d have a good time studying there.

Now I don’t mean this facetiously, like whether the city has any good nightclubs, but whether you could see yourself enjoying living there for five years. Because five years of medical school is a long time to struggle through if you can’t stand the place.

Whether or not you’d enjoy studying there might depend on the location, what type of course is offered or even whether you know anyone else going to that university.

You’re never going to have a fun time commuting eight hours home every weekend to see your dog that you really love or to see your schoolmates who are all staying in your home town.

I actually ruled out any medical school that didn’t have a lacrosse team (as it’s a sport that’s not offered at every university) and my mum actually only applied to cities that had a John Lewis way back when she was applying to dental school!

After you’re satisfied that you’ll be happy with any of your potential choices, you can start drilling down into some of the finer details.

For me personally, one of my big considerations was how the curriculum was delivered. Having never experienced either lecture-based learning or problem-based learning, I wasn’t certain which would suit me best but I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be lecture-based learning.

I’d suggest that how the course is taught should have a part to play in your decision-making. Now you might not actually mind either way, but at the end of the day you are there to be taught how to be a doctor so how that’s done is quite important.

There are plenty of other things you can think about, such as whether full-body dissection is offered or whether it’s a campus or city university, but these should all come secondary to you being happy in a location and being able to learn effectively.

Does Your Medical School’s Ranking Matter?

Rankings are always a great topic to argue with your friends about over who goes to the best university.

The two main ones for medical schools are The Complete University Guide and The Guardian.

Both rank universities as a whole, as well as specifically for medicine, by assigning scores to them for a number of different categories. For example, student satisfaction, entry standards and student-to-staff ratio.

University students using computers in an IT room

My answer to whether or not these rankings matter is plain and simple:

Absolutely not!

These rankings literally change every year, with universities jumping up and down the league tables seemingly randomly. Not to mention the fact that they’re collated from data from final year students- so there’ll actually be a five-year lag behind the data and what a first-year medical student might experience.

A lot of the categories can also be entirely irrelevant to what you’ll actually experience as a student at that university. For example, do you really care how professors at that institution were ranked for their research quality?

I know I’d much rather know I was going to receive high-quality teaching from motivated and enthusiastic lecturers!

Now, this isn’t to say that if my medical school currently ranks higher than my friend’s I won’t use it as unquestionable proof of my intellectual superiority. But I really wouldn’t recommend putting too much weight on nebulous rankings when making decisions about your future.

Final Thoughts

After graduating from medical school, and applying for a job as a foundation year doctor, there are only two things that matter to your application: your educational performance and your situational judgement test score.

Your educational performance measure (or EPM) is essentially how well you did in your medical school exams and the situational judgement test is very similar to the UCAT’s SJT section that you just sit in final year.

Which medical school you went to will have no influence on your chances of getting your dream job.

I do think it matters which medical school go to, as it has to be the right fit for you, but it isn’t as simple as giving all the Oxbridge candidates their first choice, then all the Durham candidates their’s and so on and so on.

Every medical school in the UK meets the GMC’s incredibly high standards and so is perfectly capable of producing excellent doctors.

I think you’ll have a fantastic time wherever you go and no amount of university snobbery can hold you back from delivering outstanding care to patients.

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.