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Should You Study Medicine Or Computer Science?

Should You Study Medicine Or Computer Science?

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.

Both medicine and computer science can lead to well respected, highly rewarding and well paid careers.

It’s natural then, if you’re trying to decide on what to study at university, that you may be struggling to pick between them.

A student should study medicine if they’re motivated by caring for people through the practical application of scientific theory. A student should study computer science if they enjoy problem-solving and logic puzzles that can be solved methodically.

Although they may intially seem like very different subjects, I have noticed there can be considerable overlap in the types of people each degree attracts.

As a doctor myself, with plenty of my closest friends working in computing or its related fields, I’m hoping to shed a bit more light on the differences between the two degrees (and the jobs that you can get after them) to help you make up your mind.

Medicine Vs Computer ScienceMedicineComputer Science
The Better CareerTieTie
Easier Course At UniversityX
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Computer Science Vs Medicine

Aside from the obvious differences in subject matter, in my opinion one of the most important distinctions between the two degrees is where they lead.

Medicine as a degree is specifically geared towards turning out doctors.

Although there’s nothing stopping medicine graduates from working in other fields, the main aim of the course is to set you up for a lifetime’s work in the NHS.

Computer science on the other hand is a bit of a broader course that can kickstart your career in a number of different fields.

In the modern world, an understanding of coding, data processing and information management is highly relevant to an untold number of job roles.

If you’re ambivalent about which contrasting career path appeals to you the most, then computer science will arguably leave more doors open to you.

However, there is definitely something to be said for being set on a pathway that has a definite direction.

By studying medicine, you know exactly where you’re heading and are almost guaranteed a job as a doctor once you graduate.

Quite a few of my friends have told me they were slightly envious of this fact.

Computer science tutorial on a MacBook

When they graduated, they didn’t always know where they were heading or what they wanted to do.

They had a degree that opened plenty of doors, but just weren’t exactly sure what they wanted their next step to be.

When weighing up your options, I think you should try and evaluate the ultimate destinations of each degree rather than the courses themselves.

Can you see yourself as a doctor or surgeon working in a hospital for your career? Or do you see yourself as a more technically specialised professional working in computing?

There are no right or wrong answers here: one of the biggest favours you can do yourself is simply to learn more about each option.

Is Medicine Harder Than Computer Science?

If we do compare the two courses that you could study at universtiy, which is generally considered the more difficult of the two?

Broadly, medicine is considered a more difficult degree than computer science. Medicine courses are two years longer than a standard undergraduate computer science course and generally have more intense, longer contact hours towards the end of the program.

Graduating from any course at university is an achievement, but medicine programs can undoubtedly be a bit more of a slog than others.

The high volume of subject matter, long hours and difficult exams makes graduating as a doctor no mean feat.

However, if you’re considering going to medical school, I wouldn’t let fears about the difficulty of the course put you off.

I’m not going to say there won’t be late nights, early starts and frantic revision sessions but if you have a passion for medicine then I can confidently tell you it’s all completely worth it.

This all isn’t to say a computer science degree is a walk in the park.

Your subject matter will be far more technical than medicine, with concepts that can actually be far harder to grasp, but out of the two it is comparatively easier.

Do Programmers Make More Than Doctors?

Although they say money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can help!

As a programmer or doctor then are you more likely to make more money?

Doctors, one average, earn more than programmers. An average salary in medicine is approximately £76,000 compared to £57,000 for IT. Top programmers are, however, more likely to earn more than top doctors who generally have a more uniform earning potential.

Working in the NHS, there’s a fairly regimented pay scale that you progress up over your career as a doctor.

As you become more specialised and more senior, you earn more money.

Programmers on the other hand can have far wider ranging salaries.

The difference in pay between the top programmers and a below average programmer will be far more than that for those of us working in medicine.

There are always going to be exceptions to the rule, but I’d say an average doctor will earn more than an average programmer.

At the very top end however, I would imagine this trend reverses.

Is It Harder To Become A Doctor Or A Programmer?

To get into medical school you’ll broadly need at least three As at A-level.

Computer science course requirements on the other hand range from CDD to AAA.

Medical schools also interview every applicant they’re considering accepting as well as nearly all of them requiring candidates to sit the UCAT.

Neither of which is standard for computer science as an undergrad.

Because of these factors, I think it’s fair to say it’s harder to become a doctor than a programmer.
It’s not uncommon for medicine applicants to take two or even three attempts to get into medical school, despite meeting the minimum academic standards.

Although this can seem like a disaster for these applicants at the time, in the grand scheme of things taking one or two extra years to begin your dream career (that you’ll work in for the rest of your life) is in my humble opinion a relatively small price to pay.

Can A Computer Science Student Become A Doctor?

If you’re currently studying computer science, or have just graduated, and think you may want to jump ship, you’re in luck.

A computer science student can definitely become a doctor.

For graduate entry medicine, some medical schools specifiy that you need to hold a science undergraduate- but many do not.

If you are thinking about making the switch then one of your first aims should be to go out and get some medical work experience.

A computer science student studying

Not only will this ultimately strengthen your medicine application, but it was also give you a much clearer picture of what working in healthcare is actually like.

This will help solidy in your mind whether or not you actually want to go back to university to become a doctor.

Before getting too distracted with your medicine application, you will need to graduate with at least a 2:1 (or even better a 1st) to put you in with the best shot of getting a future place at medical school.

Graduate entry medicine is unfortunately even more competitive than undergraduate medicine- so you’ll need every advantage you can give yourself.

As I mentioned at the start of the article, I do think there can be considerable overlap between the qualities of a doctor and those needed for computer science.

At its core, diagnosing a patient and troubleshooting code both require solid problem solving skills.

Final Thoughts

I really don’t think you can go far wrong with either medicine or computer science.

They’re both expansive subjects that can lead to incredible careers.

There’s also nothing stopping you from combining the two in one way or another.

I’ve got a friend who’s currently working in London flitting between different biomedical start-ups.

His undergraduate in biomedicine and masters in robotics has made him an incredibly valuable hire to some of these companies that are looking to push the boundaries of modern medicine and technology.

If you are completely on the fence after doing your best to differentiate between the two subjects, then all I can say (as a completely unbiased doctor) is that I’ve never looked back on choosing medicine.

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.