Should You Study Medicine Abroad Or In The UK?
by Arnab Dey Job & Career 04 July 2023
The path to any medical profession is always competitive, which is why choosing where to study should be done with careful consideration. With the rise of international education, students now have the option to study medicine abroad. While studying in one’s home country has advantages, studying abroad may also offer unique opportunities for personal and academic growth.
In this article, we’ll explore the advantages of studying medicine abroad as well the challenges that come with it, such as adapting to a new environment, dealing with homesickness, and establishing professional relationships with people of different cultures.
But before we talk about why finding the best pre-med school for you overseas can be a good idea, let’s first examine why pursuing medical education in the UK is a valuable option too.
Why Study Medicine in the UK?
The UK is home to some of the world’s leading medical schools, with a long history of excellence in medical education and research. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is also highly regarded, providing students with opportunities to gain practical experience in a world-class healthcare system.
In addition, studying medicine in the UK presents the following advantages:
- High Quality of Education: The UK’s medical schools are highly respected and ranked among the best in the world. The curriculum is rigorous and designed to train students to be competent professionals in the field of medicine.
- Early Clinical Exposure: Medical students in the UK can gain clinical exposure as early as the first year, depending on the program. This is earlier than most medical schools abroad, where clinical experience begins in the third year.
- Unique Research Opportunities: The UK is a hub for medical research, providing students with opportunities to get involved in cutting-edge research projects and gain valuable experience.
- English Language Proficiency: Because English is widely spoken and understood worldwide and is considered the primary language of the medical industry, aspiring doctors must be trained to be proficient even as students. Medical schools in the UK use English as the medium of instruction, so international students not only enhance their proficiency in the English language but in English medical jargon as well.
- Better Career Opportunities: Graduates of UK medical schools are recognized as brilliant students whose qualifications are acknowledged worldwide. This makes them highly sought after by employers around the world, with many opportunities for career advancement and specialization.
- Access to Advanced Technology: UK medical schools use the latest equipment to deliver the best education and help students ace their medical exams. While tuition fees may be hefty, the trade-off is that students can access advanced facilities to optimize their learning experience and skills acquisition.
If you’re based in the UK, consider yourself fortunate as you’re already close to some of the world’s best medical schools. Some of these schools also allow residency abroad, which means you can get clinical exposure in other countries too. Unless you’d like to start in a different country where you may have better chances and opportunities, you probably don’t need to consider studying overseas.
Studying Abroad: Advantages and Disadvantages
Pursuing a medical education in a foreign country can expand one’s horizons and foster personal and academic advancement. In fact, there are many high-performing medical schools in Germany, Canada, Australia, and numerous other countries that students can explore.
It’s crucial to thoroughly weigh the pros and cons before making a decision.
To begin, here are some of the advantages of studying medicine abroad:
- Exposure to Different Healthcare Systems and Practices: Studying medicine abroad can provide students with the opportunity to learn about different healthcare systems and practices, which can broaden their perspective and enhance their understanding of medicine.
- No Student Caps: Besides stringent admission criteria, aspiring doctors may face an uphill battle, as the UK government reintroduced the 7,500 medical student limit in 2022. This move may push more UK students to consider studying medicine abroad to broaden their options.
- Cultural Immersion: Studying abroad allows students to immerse themselves in a new culture, learn a new language, and develop valuable cross-cultural communication skills.
- Lower Tuition Fees and Living Costs: In some countries, the cost of tuition fees and living expenses may be lower than in the UK, providing students with a more affordable option for studying medicine.
- Travel and Networking Opportunities: Aspiring physicians completing their degrees abroad can have the life-changing experience of traveling and exploring other cultures. Seeing the world through another lens can change a student’s perspective and enhance their understanding of cultural differences in the medical profession. This can prove helpful as they learn about medicine and build their network by interacting with other students and professionals.
Depending on your personal circumstances, these advantages may have more weight than the pros of studying in the UK.
Don’t forget that there are also some disadvantages you must consider when weighing your options:
- Language Barrier and Cultural Differences: Studying medicine in a foreign country may require proficiency in a different language. Adjusting to a different culture and way of life often takes time.
- Difficulty Adapting to a New Environment: Studying abroad can be challenging, and students may experience homesickness and social isolation as they adjust to a new environment and meet new people.
- Uncertainty About Career Opportunities: Graduating from a medical school abroad may present challenges when it comes to finding employment or pursuing further training in your country of origin.
However, if you can overcome these challenges with your willingness to learn and explore, you can turn these disadvantages into growth opportunities.
Differences In Major Countries
For some aspiring medical students, studying abroad may offer opportunities that are not available in their home country. These differences vary from the progression routes and length of time required to finish medical school to the entry requirements that can be more lenient in other countries.
Some countries also have a greater variety of medical cases, which is beneficial for those who are seeking better clinical exposure for a specific specialty. The availability of scholarships is another major factor, as it enables financially challenged medical students to complete the program without worrying so much about the costs.
Most countries like the US and Canada begin their medical programs on a graduate level, with Canada requiring permanent resident status for students entering the medical residency program. On the other hand, medical schools in India and China allow applications as early as after finishing high school. However, China requires the study of traditional medicine, which is not included in most medical schools around the world.
Australia’s programs, on the other hand, are closely similar to the UK, where completing an undergraduate degree in medicine is the typical starting point. In Germany, there are free medical training degrees available. However, proficiency in both German and English languages is required. As one will expect, getting into these free programs can be tight and competitive.
Despite all these differences, all these foreign medical schools will require English proficiency tests for all non-native applicants. Science subjects are also almost always pre-requisite. This means that previous studies in both English and Science are the most beneficial for anyone who wants to pursue medical studies abroad.
Deciding Where to Pursue Medical Education
To help you decide where to best pursue your dreams of becoming a medical professional, here are the most important factors you need to consider before anything else. Use these criteria to find the ideal school not only for your personal preference but based on your available resources as well.
- Geographics: Studying in a foreign country that’s only a few hours from you is probably an easier option. But while the distance is apparently an important consideration, don’t forget about the climate too. Adapting to a new climate is more than just changing your wardrobe. You’ll also have to consider its potential impact on your lifestyle and any significant health condition you may have.
- Living Cost: Most of the best medical schools are in first-world countries, which means the cost of living is typically high. Get an estimate of the costs you’ll likely have to spend on monthly accommodation rentals, daily travel costs, and food expenses. Consider potential costs of medical emergencies too, including the cost of necessary insurance coverage. Managing your finances as a student is a valuable skill you need to learn if you want to study overseas.
- Preferred Specialty: If you already have in mind the specialty you’d like to pursue, see if your country and school of choice offer better opportunities for exposure to the variety of medical cases needed for it. Look for the best medical schools for the particular specialty you have in mind.
- Language: English-speaking countries require international students to pass a proficiency test. If English is not your first language, allot plenty of time to prepare for this.
- Culture: Although students are usually excited by the idea of exploring new cultures, failing to anticipate differences — which can be dramatic — can lead to culture shock. Do diligent research about the country’s culture, proper behavior and conduct, etiquette, customs and traditions, and religious beliefs you need to be familiar with. Understanding these differences will help you respect the new culture, as locals may expect. This will also facilitate safe cultural immersion and help you gain a fair perspective of how their culture may affect their medical and educational practices.
- Legal Considerations: To avoid committing offenses unknowingly, you must be aware of a foreign country’s laws before stepping foot in their territory. Remember that no law excuses ignorance. A good starting point is to look up relevant laws that apply to foreign students and if there are any controversial laws that might be of concern to you. This also includes looking into the necessary paperwork you’ll need as an international student.
- Availability Of Support System: Having to study abroad usually entails being away from family. While this builds independence, it can be particularly challenging at the beginning when you’re not used to it, and more so if it’s your first time. If you don’t have relatives or friends in the country you’re targeting, be prepared for the challenges of living alone. On the other hand, if you choose to study in an overseas location where you also have relatives, you may be able to live with them and save on housing costs. The setup may also keep you from getting homesick.
Applications in medical schools are always competitive no matter where in the world. So wherever you plan to pursue medical school, make sure to prepare at least a year ahead. With the amount of information you need to gather to make a well-thought-out decision, you’ll need plenty of time just to do your research about your target country.
While studying medicine in the UK offers many advantages, studying in a foreign country also bears promising benefits. Ultimately, it’s important to do thorough research. Consider all factors to make a more informed decision, and choose the most reputable school that can offer the best opportunities to help you achieve your goals as a future professional.