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Should You Study Medicine Or Law? (Medicine Vs Law)

Should You Study Medicine Or Law? (Medicine Vs Law)

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.

Becoming either a doctor or a lawyer is an incredible achievement and both have the ability to create opportunities for an extremely exciting and varied career.

However, exactly because of the fact that both these professions offer prodigious employment you may be struggling to decide whether you should study medicine or law?

Whether a student should study medicine or law at university will all come down to their personal interests, aptitudes and aspirations. Modern medicine is underpinned by scientific theory, which doctors then apply to the care of patients, whereas law is traditionally a more academic subject.

Unfortunately, there’s never going to be one blanket rule that can be applied to everyone that will automatically tell them which degree is right for them.

However, as a doctor myself, with plenty of friends who are lawyers, in this article I’ve tried to shed a bit more light on the different aspects of the two vocations to hopefully help you make up your mind.

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Medicine Vs Law

Although plenty of bright, young students may struggle to decide between studying medicine or law, they’re actually two incredibly different professions.

To study medicine you need to be good at science- or at least be willing to put in the hours to understand scientific theories. That’s because before you learn how to fix a problem, you need to know why it occurred in the first place.

Which means understanding the anatomy and physiology of the human body.

Law on the other hand is traditionally a much more academic discipline. It’s all about understanding the relationships between rules and human beings.

I can’t say it was ever on the cards for me as I can’t write an essay to save my life. But my friends (who are lawyers) assure me it’s a field like no other.

A young lawyer working at her laptop

The way the two subjects are studied differs as well.

The only way to become a doctor is to complete five years of medical school if you’re an undergraduate. For law, on the other hand, you can either complete a three-year undergraduate law course or you can do a one-year law conversion course as a postgraduate.

So you can essentially do an undergraduate degree in a subject you’re passionate about and then d0 a conversion that squeezes in that three year law degree into a single year.

Is It Harder To Become A Lawyer Or A Doctor?

If you’re tossing up between becoming a lawyer or a doctor then one of the most influential factors in your decision will likely be the difficulty of achieving either goal.

It is generally considered harder to become a doctor than a lawyer. Students have got to battle a far higher competition ratio to get into medical school compared to law school in addition to the fact that law schools’ academic requirements are often considerably lower than that for medical school.

In 2021, medical schools across the UK received 28,690 applications- up 20.9% compared to 2020 (source). While the number of spots open for students to study medicine remained the same at roughly 10,000.

This gives medicine an overall competition ratio of roughly 3:1.

Just a year prior however, in 2020, 29,565 UK students applied to study law at an undergraduate level in England and Wales, out of whom 20,905 UK students were accepted onto courses (source).

This gives undergraduate law a competition ratio of only approximately 1.5:1. Meaning it’s potentially twice as hard to get into medical school than it is for law school.

Additionally, it’s incredibly rare for a student to get into medical school without at least three As at A-level (except for access to medicine students).

For law school on the other hand, entry requirements range from BCC to AAA, with universities most commonly asking for ABB.

If you were to discount the huge amounts of hard work and dedication both disciplines demand from a student to successfully graduate, I think just these two factors, of competition ratios and entry requirements, would swing the needle in favour of Law being the easier option.

Is Law School Or Medical School Harder?

As someone who’s been through medical school, I can confidently tell you it’s no walk in the park. But is it harder than law school?

Medical school is generally considered more difficult than law school. This is due to a number of factors, but on a superficial level, an undergraduate medicine course in the UK takes at least five years to complete compared to only three years for an average law degree.

I don’t think anyone can argue that three years is harder than five years!

What I will say though is that medical school doesn’t necessarily set out at a blistering pace. It’s more of a consistent build in workload, as you learn more in each consecutive year, until finals where you’re being examined to determine whether you’ve got enough knowledge to be qualified as a doctor.

Law school on the other hand can be overwhelming if you’ve not got the right study skills in place. From speaking to my friends who have been through law school, their key message was that to survive you have to be able to prioritise.

Law professors seem to like to throw tonnes of reading at students, in addition to a litany of cases they’re required to research.

In order to not drown under the workload, you’ve then got to decide what you’re going to cover, and to what level of depth, so that you can still maintain a semblance of a social life.

All my lawyer friends have got stories of classmates who weren’t able to prioritise effectively, and so spent every evening and weekend hunched over a book in the library.

Do Lawyers Or Doctors Earn More Money?

The dream job for many people is one that they both find satisfying and that rewards them well for their efforts.

As I’m sure you know, both doctors and lawyers are generally very well paid. But you may be wondering which profession earns more?

On average, doctors earn more money than lawyers. The average salary for a doctor in the UK is roughly £76,300 compared to £68,700 for a lawyer. However, top-paid lawyers will often earn considerably more than top-paid doctors and are able to reach these higher salaries sooner in their careers.

I got these figures from Jobted UK which calculates an average salary from all the different job postings on their website for each profession. So you’ll have to take them with a pinch of salt but I don’t think they’re a bad estimate.

I do think the ‘average’ doctor earns more than the ‘average’ lawyer because in law there’s a larger disparity between earnings for different specialities than in medicine.

A group of lawyers having a meeting in an office

In medicine, everyone is on roughly the same NHS pay scale, which gradually creeps up over the course of a doctor’s career to a considerable sum of over £100,000 for experienced consultants.

A lawyer’s earnings on the other hand are far more related to what area of law they’re working in. For example, a public defender’s salary might be £45,000 in the UK compared to a high-flying private corporate lawyer on £350,000.

It is true that doctor’s also have the potential for private work, but it will always be somewhat limited by their time commitments to the NHS.

A gifted young lawyer who’s willing to put in the hours at a big London firm will easily be able to reach a six-figure salary within five years of starting work. Whereas in the NHS, it would take a doctor at least sixteen years to do the same if they weren’t taking on any private work.

Are Doctors Or Lawyers More Intelligent?

If you ask a doctor who’s more intelligent I’m sure they’ll say doctors. But if you ask a lawyer I’m sure they’ll say lawyers. So which is it?

Doctors are often considered to be more intelligent than lawyers. An analysis of the average IQs of individuals in certain professions revealed that doctors have a mean IQ of almost 10 points higher than lawyers. This, however, does not mean all doctors are smarter than all lawyers.

Now I know what you’re thinking: I’m a doctor so I’m biased in favour of saying doctors are more intelligent. And while that might be true, I do also have some scientific proof…

In this study, R Hauser determined modern IQ ranges for various occupations. Medics achieved an average IQ of over 120 whereas the average for those in legal fields was closer to 110.

As I say, this study in no way proves all doctors are more intelligent than all lawyers. Indeed, it could be argued in many fields lawyers are promoted on a more meritocratic basis compared to doctors.

As a doctor, if you tick the right boxes and don’t have any complaints against you you’ll likely continue to move up the training ladder. Lawyers on the other hand are frequently judged on more objective measures and outcomes to determine who rises in their career.

Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if another study were to be done comparing top lawyers to top doctors the top lawyers would come out on top.

Final Thoughts

Law and medicine are both highly respected, rewarding and well-paid careers. I really don’t think you can go wrong by choosing to study either at university.

As a doctor however, I really can’t not promote medicine to you.

I had a fantastic time throughout medical school, as well as the last few years working as a doctor, and would readily recommend the job to anyone.

Whichever you end up choosing, I’m positive you’re going to have an amazing time at university and beyond.

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.