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What Is An Access To Medicine Course?

What Is An Access To Medicine Course?

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.

If you’re looking to apply to medical school despite having left school a couple of years ago, you may have come across the concept of an access to medicine course.

But what actually is one and could it help you become a doctor?

An access to medicine course is a year-long qualification candidates can use to apply to medical school with in lieu of A-levels. It is generally studied full-time at a higher education college by mature students. An access to medicine course replaces the standard requirement for 3As at A-level.

An access to medicine course could be the perfect option if you don’t have the required grades, subjects or even any A-levels at all, usually needed to get into medical school.

In this article, I’m going to look at what you learn on the course, which universities accept them, what the entry requirements are and even whether you can complete one online.

Who Are Access To Medicine Courses For?

Access to medicine courses are aimed at mature students who don’t have the academic qualifications generally required to get into medical school.

They’re not meant for school students (or direct school leavers) who didn’t manage to achieve good enough grades to immediately get into medical school.

As a mature student, you might have left school straight after your GCSEs or not taken the required science subjects at A-level to meet medical schools’ demands.

One of the main aims of access to medicine courses is to widen participation in medicine.

That means getting people to become doctors who might not otherwise have studied medicine.

One way they do this is by giving mature students an easy way to prove to medical schools they have the academic ability necessary to take on a medicine course without having to go back to school to do A-levels.

What Do You Learn In An Access To Medicine Course?

An access to medicine course aims to give students the required scientific foundation to begin studying as a medical student after completing the program.

Curriculums generally focus on chemistry, biology and a bit of maths. In contrast to biology and chemistry standalone A-levels, an access to medicine course will often have more of a medical spin.

An access to medicine student conducting a science experiment

This means you’ll likely spend more time learning about things that can be applied to the clinical care of patients compared to just learning pure scientific theory.

In addition to the actual science, access to medicine courses also aim to equip students with the more intangible skills and qualities required to be a doctor.

These are things like the attitudes, professionalism and communications skills needed to succeed in medicine.

Which Universities Accept Access To Medicine Courses?

Unfortunately, not every UK medical school accepts students who apply with an access to medicine course rather than A-levels.

Furthermore, out of those who do, universities can have varying standards and requirements regarding these access courses.

Generally, there are 4 different stances a university will take:

  • Access to medicine courses are not accepted
  • Only the access course run by that particular university is accepted
  • Access courses from a select handful of colleges are accepted
  • Any accredited access to medicine course is accepted
Access To Medicine Pixel Infographic

From a bit of research, I’ve compiled this table for how universities treat applicants with an access to medicine course rather than A-levels:

Medical SchoolAccess To Higher Education Diploma
University of AberdeenAccepted
Anglia RuskinAccepted from specific colleges
Aston UniversityNot currently accepted
University of BirminghamNot currently accepted
Brighton and SussexAccepted from specific colleges
University of BristolAccepted
BrunelNot accepted
University of BuckinghamBuckingham-specific Medical Science diploma
University of CambridgeCambridge-specific Pre-Medical Studies diploma
Cardiff UniversityNot mentioned on website
University of ChesterGraduate entry only
University of DundeeDundee-specific Gateway to Medicine
Edge Hill UniversityNot accepted
University of East AngliaAccepted from specific colleges
University of EdinburghAccepted
University of ExeterAccepted
University of GlasgowAccepted
Hull YorkAccepted from specific colleges
Imperial College LondonNot accepted
Keele UniversityAccepted
Kent and MedwayAccepted
King’s College LondonAccepted
Lancaster UniversityAccepted
University of LeedsAccepted
University of LeicesterAccepted
LincolnNot mentioned on website
University of LiverpoolAccepted
University of ManchesterAccepted
Newcastle UniversityAccepted
University of NottinghamNot mentioned on website
University of OxfordAccepted
University of PlymouthNot accepted
Queen Mary UniversityQueen Mary-specific Medical diploma
Queen’s University BelfastNot mentioned on website
Ulster UniversityGraduate entry only
University of SheffieldNot accepted
University of SouthamptonAccepted
University of St AndrewsNot accepted
St George’sAccepted
University of SunderlandNot accepted
Swansea UniversityGraduate entry only
University College LondonAccepted
University of Central LancashireNot mentioned on website
University of WarwickGraduate entry only

At the time of writing, I tried to make sure all the above was as accurate as possible, but you should always double-check with a university’s website and/or admissions team before applying with an access to medicine course.

One common theme that’s not reflected in the table is a lot of medical schools specified that the access to medicine course you do has to conform to the QAA subject descriptor for medicine.

What Are The Entry Requirements For An Access To Medicine Course?

The exact entry requirements for access to medicine courses vary depending on where it’s studied.

For example, the entry requirements for a course from Harlow College are that you need GCSE English, maths and science at Level 5 or above.

Although not every college places restrictions on the GCSEs required to study an access to medicine course, medical schools do still broadly require at least a 6 in English language and 6 in maths to study medicine- even from mature applicants.

Therefore, although it may be possible to get the diploma, without these grades you still wouldn’t be able to use it to become a doctor if you didn’t have the set standard of GCSEs needed for medical school.

Otherwise, colleges are generally looking for candidates who clearly have a passion for medicine and a vested interest in becoming a doctor.

This can be demonstrated, either formally or informally, through work experience, a personal statement or references.

Access To Medicine FAQs

Can you do an access to medicine course online?

Access to medicine courses can be completed online. Instead of students attending classes at a college, distance learning modules are completed at home. However, due to the fact such curriculums lack any sort of practical element, not every medical school accepts online access courses.

Do access to medicine courses have exams?

Access to medicine courses do have exams. Generally, access courses aim to reflect the way students are assessed as part of a medical degree. This means assessments can include written exams, presentations, or practical tasks that are graded and used to pass or fail students.

What is an access to medicine course equivalent to?

An access to medicine course is a level 3 higher education diploma. Such a qualification can be used as a substitute for A-levels by students who are applying to medical school. However, not every medical school allows students to apply with an access to medicine diploma.

Final Thoughts

Access to medicine courses, much like contextual offers for medical school, are a great way to continue widening the pool of people that begin studying at medical school every year.

If you are planning on completing one, I would just look very carefully at the course details to make sure it will be recognised by all the medical schools you’re planning on applying to.

Additionally, an access to medicine course is still a valuable qualification in its own right and can be used to apply to other university courses if you ultimately decide that medicine isn’t for you.

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.