What you need to know about intercalation
The pros and cons of intercalation and when you can intercalate at different medical schools
An intercalated degree is an opportunity for medical students to take a year out from their training and get a further degree qualification. The aim of an intercalated degree is to give future doctors additional skills and experience in a specialist area, which can be anything from anatomy, global health, psychology, and medical education to medical journalism and philosophy. Taking an intercalated year can add up to five points to your foundation programme application.
By undertaking an intercalated degree you will have a chance to study different subjects in depth and to become familiar with scientific techniques and methods or research that you might not otherwise encounter. You can also study for a masters or PhD, although this can take longer than a year and you may need either a full or intercalated degree in the subject. Intercalation also provides an opportunity to obtain prizes for your research and to present your work at national or international meetings or to publish your work in a journal.
Should you choose a course that offers it?
An intercalated year can be rewarding and enjoyable, but it means taking a year out to study. Research suggests that students who intercalate perform better in subsequent exams and on selection to the foundation programme. Intercalated BSc courses may improve performance on the medical programme and skills such as critical appraisal and research. Intercalation may also positively impact students’ employability and future careers. However, the decision as to whether a student should intercalate will depend on their motivations, interests, ambitions, and financial circumstances. It is likely that the benefit of an intercalated degree is linked to motivation to intercalate. Those who see intercalation as a year out do not reap the same benefits as those who are keen to extend their applied research, skills, and knowledge. It’s also worth bearing in mind that intercalation is compulsory at some medical schools (see table).
|Medical school||Intercalated year||Year|
|Barts and The London||Yes but not compulsory||Not specified|
|Birmingham||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2, 3, and 4|
|Brighton and Sussex||Yes||After year 3|
|Bristol||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2|
|Cardiff||Yes but not compulsory||After year 3 or after year 4|
|Dundee||Yes but not compulsory||After year 3|
|Durham||Yes but not compulsory||Not specified|
|Edinburgh||Yes||After year 2|
|Exeter||Yes but not compulsory||After year 4|
|Glasgow||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2|
|Imperial College London||Yes||After year 3|
|Keele||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2|
|King’s College||Yes but not compulsory||After year 3|
|Lancaster||Yes but not compulsory||After year 4|
|Leeds||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2|
|Leicester||Yes but not compulsory||Not specified|
|Liverpool||Yes but not compulsory||After year 4|
|Manchester||Yes but not compulsory||Not specified|
|Newcastle||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2, 3, and 4|
|Norwich||Yes but not compulsory||After year 3 and 4|
|Nottingham||Compulsory—but you will study at Nottingham||After year 2|
|Oxford||Compulsory—but you will study at Oxford||After year 2|
|Plymouth||Yes but not compulsory||After year 4|
|Queen’s University Belfast||Yes but not compulsory||After year 2 and 3|
|Sheffield||Yes but not compulsory||Not specified|
|Southampton||Yes but not compulsory||Not specified|
|St Andrew’s||Yes but not compulsory||After year 3|
|St George’s||Yes but not compulsory||After year 3|
|University College London||Compulsory—but you will study at University College London||After year 2|
What are the degree options and where should you search for opportunities?
Students looking to intercalate often have a range of options. You can intercalate in preclinical sciences, such as anatomy or biochemistry, as well as clinical subjects, such as oncology or infectious diseases, or in a broader healthcare discipline, such as public health or ethics. Medical students can study at undergraduate and postgraduate level. A comprehensive list of intercalation programmes is available at www.intercalate.co.uk. The site allows you to search by subject or region.
Fees and funding
A chance to take a year out and study something new and interesting—why would students not take up this opportunity? Intercalating has some drawbacks, which may deter people. An additional year of studying in an already demanding and longer than average undergraduate degree programme and an extra year of tuition fees are the most commonly cited reasons for choosing not to intercalate.
Think carefully about how to finance your intercalated degree, particularly if it isn’t a compulsory part of your course, as this will be a new cost that you might not have factored in. Intercalation fees at undergraduate level will depend on your current fee status. Typically, this will be another year of tuition fees at £9000 (€12 800; $14 000) with additional living costs. Student loans are available for undergraduate intercalated degrees, and from 2016 students under the age of 30 will also be eligible to apply for a postgraduate student loan. Currently, students in their fifth and sixth year of a medical degree can receive funding from an NHS bursary. More information on student loans is available at www.slc.co.uk/services/higher-education.aspx, and information on NHS bursaries is at www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/Students/816.aspx. Several grants and scholarships are also available for intercalating students, but these will depend on the degree programme you apply to.
Box 1: Reasons for and against intercalating
Reasons for intercalating
- • You can study a topic that interests you in more depth
- • You can develop your research skills and experience
- • You gain an additional degree qualification
- • You can make friends and experience a new academic environment
- • You can present your research at conferences and aim to get published
- • You will have more time to reflect on your future career
Reasons against intercalating
- • You have to take a year out of medical training and practice. If this is an optional year, when you return you will resume your studies with the year group below and may need to refresh your clinical skills
- • Financial commitment—can you afford an additional year of study and living expenses?
- • You will have to wait an extra year before you are awarded your medical degree and start earning a salary
Correspondence to: email@example.com
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
For more information on intercalation see Barnett-Vanes A, Shalhoub J. Studying for an intercalated BSc externally. Student BMJ 2014;22:g2194
- Jones M, Hutt P, Eastwood S, Singh S. Impact of an intercalated BSc on medical student performance and careers; a BEME systematic review. Medical Teacher 2013;e1493-510.
Cite this as: Student BMJ 2015;23:h5078