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Medical School In The UK Vs US: Which Is Best?

Medical School In The UK Vs US: Which Is Best?

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.

I personally studied medicine in the UK. I spent five years as a medical student at the University of Leicester before starting work as a doctor in Plymouth.

However, over my time working in hospitals, I’ve had the chance to meet quite a few doctors who studied in the US before moving to the UK.

By talking to them about their experiences and through a bit of research online, I’ve put together this article to compare the two countries’ systems for medical education. This should hopefully help you if you’re trying to decide which country you want to go to medical school in.

Overview Of Medical Education In The UK & US

In the UK, medical school is typically 4-6 years long, with the first two years involving classroom and lecture-based learning and the remaining three years having a heavier focus on clinical placements.

Students are taught a broad range of medical topics, with an emphasis on evidence-based medicine and clinical skills.

In contrast, medical education in the US can be longer but more flexible. Most medical schools require 4 years of study, but some programs may last up to 7 years.

In a similar fashion to the UK, the first two years typically involve classroom-based learning, while the remaining two years involve clinical rotations in a 4-year degree.

Medical School In The UK Vs US Pixel Infographic

Additionally, US medical schools can offer a wider range of specialisations and electives while still at medical school, allowing students to tailor their education to their interests and career goals earlier on.

Both the UK and US medical education systems are highly respected and produce skilled and knowledgeable medical professionals. The choice between the two ultimately comes down to your personal preferences and career goals.

Medical School Admission Requirements

To gain admission to medical school in the UK or US, there are often strict requirements that applicants must meet in order to be in with a shot of getting accepted.

Although these requirements may vary depending on the specific medical school, there are some general trends we can use to compare the UK and US.

If you’re thinking of applying to a specific school, it is however of course important to research their specific requirements thoroughly before submitting an application.

UK Medical School Admission Requirements

In the UK, most medical schools require applicants to have completed A-levels or equivalent qualifications in chemistry and biology, as well as another subject.

In addition to these academic requirements, applicants must also take the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) or another similar entrance exam, which is used to assess their aptitude for a career in medicine.

Some medical schools in the UK may also require applicants to have completed a certain number of hours of work experience in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or GP surgery.

This work experience is designed to give applicants an understanding of what it’s like to work in a medical environment and to help them demonstrate their commitment to a career in medicine.

US Medical School Admission Requirements

In the US, entry requirements typically include:

  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree
  • Completion of specific prerequisite courses, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and maths
  • Completion of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
  • Clinical experience, such as volunteering or shadowing a doctor

The key difference between the UK and US then is that medicine is studied as a graduate in the US.

You have to have already completed an undergraduate degree.

In the UK, however, you can study medicine as either an undergraduate or a graduate.

In addition to the above requirements, many US medical schools also consider factors such as extracurricular activities, leadership experience, and research experience when evaluating applicants.

US medical schools tend to place more emphasis on extracurricular activities and leadership experience, while UK medical schools focus more on academic achievement and aptitude for medicine.

Overall, however, the admission requirements for medical school in the UK and US are quite similar, with both requiring applicants to have studied specific subjects and to have demonstrated an aptitude for a career in medicine.

Cost Of Medical School In The UK & US

Arguably, one of the biggest differences between studying medicine in the UK and the US is the cost of your education.

Tuition Fees

For British students studying in the UK, tuition fees are typically around £9,250 per year.

However, for international students, the cost can be much higher, ranging from £20,000 to approximately £50,000 per year.

Tuition fees for medical school in the US can vary widely depending on whether you attend a public or private institution.

According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2022-2023 academic year at a public medical school for in-state students was $41,438, while out-of-state students paid an average of $64,605.

Private medical schools, on the other hand, had an average tuition and fees cost of $64,986.

Living Expenses

In addition to tuition fees, living expenses are another important cost to consider when attending medical school. These can include accommodation, food, transportation, and other miscellaneous expenses.

According to the National Union of Students, the average cost of living for a student in the UK is around £12,000 per year. However, this can vary depending on your location and lifestyle.

Researching UK and US medical school entry requirements

The cost of living for a student in the US will be roughly similar, with most sources suggesting total costs ranging from $10,000 to $18,000 per year.

Living expenses in a major metropolitan area, such as New York City or San Francisco, will of course likely be significantly higher than in a smaller town or rural area.

Scholarships and Grants

Thankfully, there are a number of scholarships and grants available to help offset the high costs of attending medical school in both the UK and US.

These can come from a variety of sources, including the government, private organisations, and the medical schools themselves.

Some scholarships and grants are based on academic merit, while others may be based on financial need or other criteria.

You find a list of scholarships available for UK medical schools here, although I would say overall there are a greater number of funding opportunities available to students planning on studying medicine in the US.

Starting Work As A Doctor In The UK Vs US

As a doctor, the medical education you receive can have a significant impact on your career opportunities. In this section, I explore the impact where you study medicine has on the beginning of your career as a doctor.

Licensing and Certification

In the US, doctors must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) to obtain a medical license.

The USMLE is a three-step exam that assesses a physician’s ability to apply their medical knowledge, skills, and understanding of clinical science to patient care.

The three steps of the USMLE are:

  • Step 1: Assesses a physician’s ability to apply basic science concepts to patient care
  • Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK): Assesses a physician’s ability to apply medical knowledge, skills, and understanding of clinical science to patient care
  • Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS): Assesses a physician’s ability to gather information from a patient, perform a physical examination, and communicate their findings to the patient and other healthcare professionals

In the UK, doctors must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) to practice medicine. To register with the GMC, doctors must have a primary medical qualification (PMQ) that is recognised by the GMC- this essentially means graduating from a formally recognised medical school.

There is no universal finals exam for UK medical schools, but each university assured by the GMC will have hit certain minimum standards for tuition and examination procedures.

Residency and Fellowship Training

After completing medical school, doctors in the US must complete a residency program in their chosen specialty.

Residency programs typically last three to seven years, depending on the specialty. During this time, doctors receive hands-on training and work under the supervision of experienced physicians.

In the UK, doctors complete a two-year foundation programme after medical school. This programme includes rotations in different medical specialties and provides doctors with the opportunity to gain experience in different areas of medicine.

After completing the foundation programme, doctors can choose to enter specialty training programmes, which typically last 4 to 6 years.

Final Thoughts

Having studied medicine in the UK myself, if you’re on the fence between the UK and US, I’m always going to recommend the UK to you.

I had an absolutely fantastic time at medical school and I’m sure you will too.

Ultimately, the decision between studying medicine in the UK or the US should be based on individual preferences, financial considerations, and long-term career goals. At the end of the day, both countries provide excellent medical education and opportunities for aspiring doctors.

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.