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How Long Is Medical School? (Every UK University Compared)

How Long Is Medical School? (Every UK University Compared)

Updated on: December 8, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

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

To become a doctor, you need to spend more time at medical school than the average 3-year-long undergraduate university degree.

But, just how long is medical school in the UK?

Medical school is generally five years long in the UK, but can range from four to seven. Medicine courses can be shortened to four years for graduate-entry applicants while some medical schools require their students to complete six years as an undergraduate as standard.

I spent 5 years studying medicine at the University of Leicester.

This is the most common length of time people spend at medical school but there is a fair amount of variation depending on what medicine course you study and where you study it.

In this article, I’m going to look at how long medicine degrees are at universities across the UK as well as discussing what factors influence their length.

How Long Is A Medicine Degree At A UK University?

The ‘standard’ length of time for a medical degree in the UK is five years long.

This is the length for an average undergraduate medicine course.

Five years at medical school can take an 18-year-old direct school leaver and spit them out as a freshly minted junior doctor.

However, some medical schools only run 6-year undergraduate medicine degrees.

If you study at one of these universities, you’ll graduate one year later than colleagues who attended other institutions.

Here are the lengths of undergraduate medicine degrees at universities across the UK:

Medical SchoolLength of Course
Anglia Ruskin5
Brighton & Sussex5
Edge Hill5
Hull York5
Kent & Medway5
King’s College5
Queen’s Belfast5
St Andrews6
St George’s5
Central Lancashire5

This table compares every university’s A100 program: their undergraduate medicine degree.

But, many universities also run an A101 course: a shorter course only open to graduates.

However, I’ll touch on graduate entry medicine slightly later on in the article.

The only medical school to run a course that’s less than 5 years long is the University of Buckingham.

This is because their intake actually starts in January, rather than September which is used by the majority of universities.

In addition to all of these medicine programs, the new medical doctor degree apprenticeship offers an alternative path into medicine.

Instead of spending 5 or 6 years straight studying at university, you work on a hospital ward as an apprentice, in addition to attending regular lectures and seminars.

The apprentice programs will also initially be 5 years long, but there won’t be any graduate entry option.

How Long Is An Intercalated Medical Degree?

For universities that run 6-year long courses, their degrees are a year longer because they mandate their students take an intercalated year within their time studying at medical school.

For most universities this extra year is optional for medical students, but at these universities you have to do it.

An intercalated year is essentially a year break within your medicine degree where you go and study something completely different for the year before continuing with your medical studies.

I personally chose not to do an intercalated year when I was studying at Leicester.

How Long Is Medical School Pixel Infographic

I’ve got to admit that 5 years was more than long enough for me at university and I was just keen to start work as a doctor.

However, lots of my friends did choose to intercalate.

For example, one of my good friends chose to go and learn about education theory at the University of York, while another spent the year researching heart attack treatments in a laboratory.

If you choose to intercalate as a medical student, after your year out of the standard stream you simply slot into the year below and continue with the curriculum.

I think in my year at university roughly a third of students chose to do this.

The advantages are you get a bit of a mental break from the ever-increasing workload of medical school, as well as getting something that will look good on your CV when applying for competitive jobs as a doctor.

Adding an intercalated year into a medicine degree will essentially just make it a year longer than it was originally.

How Long Is Graduate Entry Medicine?

Now, although most people complete 5-year medicine courses, if you’re applying to medical school as a graduate then you have the option of applying to 4-year medicine programs.

Graduate entry medicine courses are only 4 years long as a standard.

They condense the 5-year curriculum into a tighter 4-years.

This is only possible because graduate students are generally more mature, more motivated and have better study skills.

4-year courses really do take things up to the next level. While medical school is pretty intense to begin with, graduate entry courses often have longer days and shorter holidays to fit everything in.

However, not every medical school offers graduate entry medicine as an option.

Some only offer 5-year undergraduate courses, while others, such as Warwick Medical School, only accept graduates.

As a graduate, you actually have the option of applying to both 5-year undergraduate medicine courses and/or 4-year graduate entry medicine courses.

While it might seem like a no-brainer to apply for the shorter course and become a doctor quicker, it’s not always that simple.

4-year graduate entry programs are often far more competitive than their undergraduate equivalents.

Equally, the medical school you particularly want to go to may not even offer a graduate entry program.

Or, you may just not fancy a 4-year sprint, cramming knowledge in at every turn, and would prefer a slightly more relaxed, if longer, time at medical school.

How Long Is Medicine With A Foundation Year?

Medicine with a foundation year just means you take an extra year, before you officially start medical school, to brush up on some basic science before you start the course.

Medicine with a foundation year (or gateway year depending on the university) is used to help people become doctors who may not otherwise have been able to meet the entry requirements for medical school.

This might be because they didn’t take the right combination of A-levels or they didn’t get the A-level grades traditionally required to meet an offer.

These courses are generally aimed at widening participation in medicine.

Eligibility criteria often run along the lines of:

  • Coming from a deprived socioeconomic background
  • Being a refugee, care leaver, or carer
  • Living in an area with low higher education uptake

Over the year, students are taught scientific concepts that will help underpin their learning for the rest of their time at medical school.

So, for a standard 5-year long course with a foundation year, a student would spend 6 years at university.

Or, bolting a foundation year onto a 6-year course would result in 7 years of undergraduate study.

What’s The Longest Medicine Degree In The UK?

An intercalated medical degree, which is the normal medicine degree with an extra year slotted into it, will normally give you a BSc or BMedSci as an extra qualification for your year’s work.

For example, at the University of Cambridge, all students take an intercalated year in their third year.

However, what sets somewhere like the University of Cambridge apart from most other medical schools is their focus on research.

Places like Oxford and Cambridge have a larger focus on academic medicine compared to somewhere like the University of Leicester (where I studied).

An academic doctor examining a specimen down the microscope

They train excellent clinical doctors, who will go on to provide brilliant care for thousands of patients over their careers, but they also train world-class academic doctors.

Academic doctors spend their time researching new diseases, treatments and how the body works.

They may still see some patients, or they may spend all their time in a laboratory or analysing data.

In order to kickstart a lifetime in academic medicine, the University of Cambridge have the option of completing a full Phd within a medical degree!

So, instead of taking a single year out of the standard medical curriculum between years 2 and 3, a Cambridge medic could take 3 years out and complete a Phd.

This would mean they’d be a medical student for 8 years!

Although, for 3 of them they admittedly wouldn’t be actively progressing in their medical studies.

This option isn’t open to everyone however, as you will have to demonstrate your academic prowess and passion for research, but it is possibly the longest amount of time someone can spend at medical school (not counting resitting years).

How Long Is Medical School Around The World?

Compared to the rest of the world, medical school in the UK is actually relatively short.

For example, in the US and Canada, you can’t study medicine as an undergraduate.

Every medical student has to have another degree before being admitted to a US medical school.

This means students have to spend 4 years completing an undergrad, before finishing 4 years at medical school to become a doctor.

France has one of the longest training pipelines for doctors, with it taking a minimum of 9 years and concluding with the presentation of a thesis.

The majority of medical schools around the world will sit at around 6-7 years for undergraduate students.

6 years is pretty much the standard for most European medical schools, but there are other countries, such as Australia, that mirror the UK with their 5-year medical degrees.

Medical School FAQs

What’s the shortest time to become a doctor?

The shortest time to become a doctor is 4 years. This option is only open to graduate students, who can undertake a 4-year graduate entry medicine degree. If a candidate doesn’t already hold a degree, the shortest time they can spend at medical school is 5 years.

Can you do a 3-year medicine course?

There are no 3-year medical degrees in the UK. The shortest time to spend at medical school and become a doctor is 4 years on a graduate-entry medicine scheme. 3-year courses exist for subjects in the field of medicine, such as a BSc in Medical Science, but not to qualify as a practising doctor.

Final Thoughts

If you’re going to study medicine as an undergraduate in the UK then you’ll most likely find yourself on a 5 year course.

You’ll probably have the option of extending it to 6 years, by completing a intercalated year, if you want to.

As a postgraduate, you can either do a 4-year graduate entry degree, or, complete a standard 5-year degree, with or without intercalating.

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.