Your Guide to Intercalation

 What is intercalation?

Intercalation = a period when a student is allowed to officially take time away from studying for an academic degree.

In the context of medical school, this means taking a year out from medical school to study something else. There is a lot to gain from this, not only in the form of an additional qualification, but also in terms of knowledge and personal development. Here at Southampton, all BM and BM(EU) students have the opportunity to intercalate between their third and fourth year of the BM5 course. Applications open for some courses at the start of third year, so it’s really important to start your decision-making early if intercalation is something you are considering. There are a lot of choices to make in a short space of time – this guide aims to give you the tools you need to make an informed decision about your career.

Is Intercalation for you?

The choice to intercalate is personal - everyone has their own reasons. Some common reasons to intercalate are:

  • To take a break. Medical school takes its toll! Third year is particularly long and many students find that intercalation is a great change of scene, especially if you choose to leave Southampton. However it should be noted that an intercalated degree is not a year of R+R – no matter what you study, you will have to meet coursework deadlines and revise for exams. That being said, many intercalated degrees allow you a good amount of self-directed time, so you can choose when you study, when you socialise and often you will have time for a part-time job. TIP: look online at the course structure in detail. Look at the contact hours and assessment style to see if this would suit you.

  • To explore an area of interest. Medical school is fast-paced, with many of specialties covered minimally or not at all in the first two years. There are a huge range of intercalated courses available, allowing you to explore an area which has caught your interest. This is particularly valuable if you go on to apply to a job in that specialty in the future. TIP: have a look at www.intercalate.hyms.ac.uk to see the range of courses available for students intercalating. 

  • To get involved in research. We are lucky at Southampton to have the opportunity to undertake a research project in year 3. This may pique your interest in involving research in your future career. Many intercalated degrees offer time dedicated to research. This is not only great experience, but increases your chances of publication (FPAS points!!) and/or the opportunity to present at a conference. Moreover there are many internal and external bursaries available to fund this. Research looks great on your CV!

  • You get a summer (unless you do a postgrad Masters). You get one last chance to make the most of that lovely 3 month summer! You can use this to go abroad, earn some money, get an internship... There are so many opportunities, it’s really worth asking past intercalators to find out what they did!

  • Personal development. Spending a year doing something different, no matter what that is, allows you to see the world from a new perspective. A breather from medical school is an opportunity to reflect on why you have chosen this path and – vom – you will honestly get to know yourself better as a person.

Reasons not to intercalate:

  • Because your friends are. A year out of medicine is a big commitment (both financially and socially). Chances are you will make new friends once you are in fourth year and are forced to meet new people on placement!

  • For FPAS points. It is true that an additional degree gets you FPAS points, which are helpful for your application for foundation jobs. However you may struggle if this is your only motivation – as above, a year out of medicine requires a lot of commitment.

 There are some downsides to intercalating:

  • Money. This factor depends on your personal situation. It is worth noting that after four years of study (including an intercalation year), NHS bursary will pay your tuition fees and give you a means-tested grant (you can also get a reduced student loan from Student Finance as normal). However, it still delays you getting a job and earning money by a year. This means you will have to cover another year of accommodation and living costs (though the NHS grant and reduced student loan will go partway towards this, depending on your parents’ income).

  • Returning to medicine. As you can imagine, a whole year out of medical school means a lot of knowledge forgotten, particularly if you choose to study something non-medical. However, personally, I’ve found this not to be too much of an issue as fourth year specialties are new for everyone! I would recommend a little bit of swotting over summer on history taking and basic examinations, other than that you’re sweet.

 Where do you want to go?

You have a lot of choices here! Pretty much every medical school in the UK offers some sort of intercalated degree. If you want to study something specific then your choice on location might be restricted. If you’re not so sure what you want to do then the choice is yours:

  • Southampton. Here at Southampton the most popular intercalated degree is the MMedSc, which runs from September to May and involves a long research project and 3 optional modules (see Blackboard for more information on this). The MMedSc has the advantage of being totally flexible, with you choosing your own research project and modules. Other options for intercalation at Southampton are the MSc Allergy, MSc Diabetes Best Practice, MSc Genomics, MSc Public Health + the MRes Stem Cells, Development and Regenerative Medicine – look at the University website for more details. Perks of staying at Southampton include the option of continuity with your research team, enjoying ‘normal’ student life at Soton (e.g. Wednesday sports socials without 9am lectures the next morning!), not having to move house, being close to uni friends, continuing with sports teams.

  • London. London universities are highly respected, culturally diverse and attract internationally regarded speakers. Perks of London? The Westend, galleries, exhibition, concerts...! Unfortunately it is undisputable that London is an expensive city to live in (especially considering that you will likely be living a good distance away from the university and you will have to pay for transport), however you do get a bigger student loan and some London universities offer good financial reimbursement to students. If money is a concern for you then it’s definitely worth doing your research online about what support is available and choosing your university accordingly.

  • Outside of London. The UK has a whole host of highly achieving universities with different attractions. For a true change of scenery it really is worth looking around at the different universities and what they have to offer. Last year we had students at Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Bristol and Cambridge – if you have questions about specifically about these universities you can contact the students directly using our database of intercalating students, put together by SIAS.

  • Going abroad. This is not widely publicised but can be done! Have a look at English-speaking Masters which fit into your time frame (unless you are fluent in another language): www.findamasters.com/study-abroad/. Because medical students abroad don’t intercalate, I don’t think there are 1 year BScs available. Studying abroad has obvious advantages – culture, travel, language – but also tuition fees abroad are often hugely reduced or even free for EU citizens. However, Student Finance will not give you a loan if you are going abroad, therefore you will have to fund yourself.

To BSc or to not BSc?

Excuse the pun – broadly speaking, you choices for intercalated degrees are either a BSc, an undergraduate Masters (e.g. MMedSc) or a postgraduate Masters (what most other universities offer). Generally speaking, the differences between them are as follows:

BSc

Timing of the course: October to May.

FPAS Points: 1st = 4 points, 2:1= 3 points, 2:2 = 2 points, 3rd = 1 point. 

Funding: Undergraduate student loan (as per years 1-3 of medical school) covering tuition fees and maintenance loan. Bursaries available.

Undergraduate Masters (e.g. MMedSc)

Timing of the course: October to May. 

FPAS Points: 1st = 4 points, 2:1= 3 points, 2:2 = 2 points, 3rd = 1 point. 

Funding: Undergraduate student loan (as per years 1-3 of medical school) covering tuition fees and maintenance loan. Bursaries available.

Postgraduate Masters

Timing of course: September to September

FPAS Points: Pass = 4 points.

Funding: Postgraduate student loan - £10,000 to cover both tuition fees and living costs. Bursaries available.