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How To Study Medicine For Free (UK & Abroad)

How To Study Medicine For Free (UK & Abroad)

Updated on: December 12, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

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

When you arrive at medical school, you’ve suddenly got tuition fees, living costs and textbooks to pay for.

But, is it possible to study medicine completely for free?

A student can go to medical school and study medicine for free by either getting a 100% scholarship to an institution or by studying in a country where universities do not charge fees. There are also plenty of medical courses from universities worldwide that can be taken online free of charge.

If you’re willing to put in the work to applying for the right scholarships and universities, it is perfectly possible to become a doctor for free.

In this article, I’m going to describe exactly what those scholarships are and where those universities are situated, so that you can avoid having to pay a single penny for your medical education.

Can You Study Medicine For Free In The UK?

When I graduated from medical school, I had over £45,000 in student debt.

What options do you have if you want to study medicine for free but learn in the UK?

The only way a student can study medicine in the UK for free is by winning a 100% scholarship to a university. There are very few of these available, due to their immense value, so competition for the award is normally fierce. There are a far greater number of partial scholarships in existence.

100% scholarships are somewhat of the holy grail of medical applications.

They’ll mean that you won’t have to pay a penny in tuition fees over the course of your 5-year degree.

Because of how expensive that can be for an organisation, there aren’t many of them out there.

Imperial College London Full Scholarship

Value£9,250 each year
Duration6 years
EligibilityHome students, who might be prevented from studying medicine due to financial constraints, who have accepted an unconditional offer to study medicine
Application ProcessAwarded for outstanding performance during the admissions process

Imperial College London offers a range of generous scholarships.

From a £3000 lump sum for the Adrian Taylor Scholarship to the fully funded medicine course courtesy of the William Anglesea Scholarship (described above).

Eligibility for all their scholarships revolves around “outstanding performance during the admissions process,” with a couple requiring you to write an essay too.

The William Anglesea Scholarship is what makes studying medicine at Imperial cost-free possible.

However, the catch is it’s only offered to one student every three years.

So if you’re applying during an off year, bad luck.

Next Academic Year The Scholarship Will Be Available
Applying 2022/23
Applying 2025/6
Applying 2028/9
Applying 2031/4

The scholarship fund was made possible by a gift from alumnus William Anglesea who read Chemical Engineering at Imperial in 1962.

It was to honour his wife who sadly passed away in 2013.

“Being able to directly support the next generation of medical students at my former university is a great privilege. Alison strongly believed in the value of education, and setting up a scholarship in her name that will benefit students for years to come is a very meaningful way of paying tribute to her.”

William Anglesea

If you are applying during an eligible year then it could be the lucky break of a lifetime.

Just note that you must be a home student who’s already accepted an unconditional offer.

The John Abernethy (Barts) Scholarship

Value£5,000 each year
Duration5 years
EligibilityStudents in financial hardship who would benefit from the MBBS programme
Application ProcessAll students who enrol in the School of Medicine are considered for the scholarship

As I mentioned, there really aren’t many full scholarships out there.

Although there will be more, from private companies, organisations or charities, Imperial’s was the only full scholarship I could find the details for online.

The next best thing then is the John Abernethy Scholarship.

A student brainstorming medical school scholarships

Although not for the full £9,250 of your tuition fees, the annual £5000 award will take care of a good chunk of them.

The scholarships have been designed to assist students who, despite exceptional academic ability and their aptitude for a medical or dental career, might not be able to undertake the course for financial reasons.

One of the best things about this scholarship from Queen Mary University is that there are 3 of them every year.

This means you’re 3 times as likely, as an eligible medical student, to be able to win one.

An interesting point to note is that you don’t have to formally apply for this scholarship.

Instead, Barts Medical School receive all the relevant financial and academic information after you’ve enrolled, and automatically put forward the 3 best people for the award.

Hull York Medical School Bursary

Value£2,400 each year
Duration5 years
EligibilityStudents on HYMS MBBS with a household income of £25,000 or less
Application ProcessApplied automatically

The final scholarship for UK medical schools I’m going to touch on is the Hull York Medical School Bursary.

Again, unfortunately it’s nowhere near a full scholarship, but it does have one unique feature:

It’s automatically applied to everyone who meets the criteria.

You don’t have to go head-to-head with other worthy students in essay contests or interviews, if you’re eligible for the Hull York scholarship then you’ll get it.

To receive the Hull York Medical School Bursary you must be registered to study at the University of Hull, studying MBBS Medicine or MBBS Medicine with a Gateway Year at Hull York Medical School, and have a household income of £25,000 or less.

It’s as simple as that. If you are applying from a low-income background, having Hull York as one of your four UCAS choices could be an easy win.

The annual £2,400 is then either applied as a discount to your accommodation if you’re staying in university halls or given to you as a cash sum if you’re not.

Where To Study Medicine For Free In English

As we’ve seen, there are pretty limited options for studying medicine entirely for free in the UK.

But, another option you’ve got is to study medicine abroad but still get taught in English.

A student can study medicine for free in English in almost any English-speaking country if they’re able to secure the right scholarships. This includes America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or even Malta. There is however no English-speaking country where there are routinely no tuition fees.

Sadly, through researching the topic, I couldn’t find a single English-speaking country that doesn’t charge fees to international students as standard.

The closest I could get was Malta.

University in Malta is free for the Maltese as well as any EU student.

So, if you have an Irish passport, were born in France or have moved to Europe, this could be an incredible opportunity to learn medicine in English while paying absolutely nothing.

Sadly, if you’re like me and are nothing but British, this won’t be an option for you.

However, by looking a little further afield, you may have some luck.

Going through all the different scholarships for every English-speaking country would be far too many to list, so I’m going to focus on America to give you a taste of what’s out there.

Check out this article to see a comparison of studying medicine in the UK vs the US.

How To Study Medicine For Free In America

Ironically, America is one of the most expensive countries in the world to get a degree in… and that applies to both home and international students.

But, it also has some of the most generous scholarships available to international students- probably because the fees are so high!

New York University

The New York University Grossman School of Medicine is one of the most incredible institutions on this list.

It awards every single student enrolled in their MD program a full tuition scholarship.

“… so that any student can pursue the dream of becoming a physician without the burden of overwhelming student debt.”

Students get free tuition regardless of their academic record or financial situation.

The only thing they have to do is “maintain satisfactory academic progress” throughout the course (I.e. not fail the exams!).

However, because of this insane opportunity to avoid crippling student debt, as you can imagine, competition for places is sky-high.

In 2022, there were 8,361 applications which resulted in 102 students matriculating at the university.

This puts the competition ratio at about 80:1!

Now, for such an amazing offer it’s almost certainly worth a shot, but I can’t say I’d confidently back myself to consistently outperform 79 other highly motivated applicants.

Cornell University

Cornell University joined the ranks of the growing number of US institutions easing the way for medical students when it announced in 2019 that it would cover all tuition costs for students who qualify for financial aid.

The average doctor who graduates in the US has close to $200,000 in student loan debt, far higher than the $40,000 average for other students.

With the move, Cornell hoped to open its doors to students from a wider range of backgrounds as well as stop their newly qualified doctors from feeling like they had to enter only the very highest paid specialties.

Cornell University campus

For eligible students, in addition to their tuition fees, they can also get their room and board, books and other educational expenses all covered by the fund.

According to the medical school, they estimate 50% of the school’s students will be able to graduate debt-free because of the scholarship program.

“This program empowers students to ultimately focus their careers on their interests and talents rather than the requisite future salaries to repay their loans.”

Columbia University

In much the same vein as Cornell, Columbia also offers full scholarships to financial aid students.

They were in fact the first university in the US to introduce this increasingly popular type of scheme.

The scholarship program was made possible in 2017 by an endowment of more than $300 million by Dr. P. Roy and Diana to the university.

“Having a scholarship fund of this magnitude puts our medical school within reach of the most talented students, regardless of their ability to pay”

– Lee Goldman, Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine

If you’re eligible for financial aid from the university, you get all your student loans paid for.

Currently, this equates to about 20% of the medical student body who have the greatest financial need.

Although it’s not quite as inclusive as the schemes from the other two American universities on the list, it’s certainly worth a look if you think you might be eligible.

Studying Medicine For Free In A Foreign Language

Now, if you’re willing to study medicine not in English but in a foreign language, you open even more doors to yourself.

Although you may have to invest in becoming relatively fluent in a second language, you could very easily argue that the student loan savings would more than make up for this effort.

Here are 5 countries in Europe where you can go to medical school for free:

Study Medicine For Free In Germany

Following a government ruling in 2014, almost all universities in Germany are tuition-free for both home and international students.

The only German state where this isn’t the case is Baden-Württemberg, where they have reintroduced fees for international students to the tune of approximately €1,500 per semester.

To go to medical school in Germany you will have to pass a German language test.

But, if your language skills aren’t up to scratch you can enrol in a pre-study language course to help get your German to where it’d need to be to study medicine.

Study Medicine For Free In Norway

Tuition-free medical schools are also available in Norway to both home and international students.

With Norway’s healthcare system consistently ranked as one of the best in the world, learning how to be a doctor there could be an incredible experience.

Although English is widely spoken in Norway, you will still have to prove you’re pretty much fluent in Norwegian to be admitted to one of their medical schools.

Having briefly visited the country with a Norwegian friend of mine, I can also confirm it’s absolutely stunning- so would offer some great weekends away as a student.

Study Medicine For Free In Sweden

Students from outside the EU, EEA, and Switzerland are required to pay tuition in Sweden.

But, if you can demonstrate you moved to Sweden before Brexit, or that you have a permanent resident visa, you won’t have to.

Again, there are unfortunately no medical schools in Sweden that teach in English- so you will have to speak Swedish fluently.

I could imagine studying medicine in Sweden could be incredible though due to the country’s high standard of living, vibrant cities and abundant beautiful natural landscapes.

Study Medicine For Free In Denmark

Students who come from the European Union or European Economic Area can study free of charge at public universities in Denmark: which includes medical schools.

Although many Masters and PhDs in Denmark are taught in English, as an undergraduate degree medicine is taught in Danish… so you guessed it, you’ll have to learn the language in order to be accepted.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Even if you’re not eligible for free tuition, you may well be able to draw on one of the many scholarships offered by Danish universities.

Danish culture highly values a healthy work-life balance, which is why I think Denmark would make an excellent place to both study medicine and then go on to work in healthcare.

Study Medicine For Free In Finland

The final European country with free tuition for medical students I’m going to cover is Finland.

In order to avoid tuition fees in Finland, you need to meet one of the requirements below:

  • Be an EU or EEA citizen or resident of Switzerland
  • Have a permanent resident’s card in Finland or a long-term resident’s EU residence permit
  • Have a fixed-term continuous residence permit
  • Have an EU Blue Card

If you are eligible to study for free in Finland, you can look forward to low student-to-faculty ratios, that ensure students get one-to-one time with the faculty and personalised mentorship from their tutors.

Which Country Is The Cheapest To Study Medicine In?

Taking a sidestep from countries where it’s free to go to medical school, if you’re deciding on a study destination then you may also want to consider countries where it’s not free but just insanely cheap to study.

The cheapest country to study medicine in is Russia. Students can study medicine in Russia for as little as $2000 to $6000 a year. The Russian government also provides over 15,000 scholarships every year to international students looking to study in Russia.

Russia is, objectively, the cheapest place to study medicine.

However, sometimes the cheapest countries aren’t always the most convenient destinations.

CountryEstimated Cost Of Studying Medicine (USD)
Russia$2000 per year
China$2,500 per year
Kyrgyzstan$3,500 per year
Ukraine$4000 per year
The Philippines$5000 per year

Depending on where you live, you may want somewhere a little closer to home.

If you’re based in the UK (or Europe), you could consider:

  • Georgia
  • Serbia
  • Bulgaria
  • Romania
  • Poland

These 5 EU countries, although not the absolute cheapest in the world, still compare very favourably to the £9,250 annual tuition fees in the UK.

In Georgia for example, you might expect to pay €5,200 at the European University In Tbilisi for their medicine course.

Over your 5 years of study, this would save you about £20,000: which is certainly nothing to sniff at!

Can You Study Medicine For Free Online?

So far, we’ve only been looking at physical, face-to-face medical schools.

Medical schools where you have to either speak the local language or often have to land a highly competitive scholarship.

But, with technology at the place it is today, you may be curious to know whether you can study medicine for free online.

To find out, you’ll have to check out this article all about virtual medical schools.

Final Thoughts

I do sometimes think about what my life might be like if I’d become fluent in a second language in order to go to university for free in a foreign country.

I would possibly be in a slightly better financial situation, but I think my friend group and relationship with my family may look very different.

As enticing as free or cheap medical schools may be, I do think you’ve always got to be weighing up the hidden costs to you in values other than money: for example, the quality of your tuition.

However, if you get that balance right, you’ll be laughing (as a doctor) all the way to the bank!

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.