Intercalated BSc: What is It and Should You Do One?
You may have come across the term “iBSc” or “intercalation” at medical school. What exactly does this mean and is it worth doing it? Well, I’ll be answering all of those questions and more, so make sure to read the whole post to not miss anything.
If you are in a rush, here is a quick answer to your question.
What Is an Intercalated BSc?
An intercalated BSc is a one-year degree that medical students usually take between their 2nd and 3rd year of university. They are compulsory in some universities while optional in others.
Is It Worth Doing One?
It depends on your goal. It can give you a better chance of getting in a foundation programme (i.e. first two years after medical school) of your choosing but could be a waste of time if you are planning to be a GP or already have a degree.
Intercalated Bachelor of Science
Now, I will give you all the information you need to know about an iBSc as well as provide reasons why you may or may not want to do it.
An intercalated BSc is a one-year degree in UK medical schools. You can choose from a variety of topics ranging from pharmacology to business and can explore the topic in much more detail than would be possible in medical school.
Some universities force you to take this extra year out, which automatically raises the number of years that you attend university from five to six.
The universities that have a compulsory BSc year include (but are not limited to):
Note that this six-year course is different from other six-year courses which are occasionally termed “foundation” course. In these, the first year is typically much easier than usual, allowing students who have less academic ability a chance of getting into the usually ultra-academic course.
An example of a course like this would be the Extended Medical Degree Programme by King’s College London.
Where the degree is optional, you are given the choice to take it after 2nd, 3rd or 4th year of medical school. This is the case in the medical school I go to, Barts and the London.
Some of the degree options are more science-based while others are very clinical.
Science-based options include:
- Sport and Exercise Medicine
Examples of clinical-based iBScs are:
- Primary Care
- Child Health
- Reproduction and Pregnancy
- Sports Cardiology
Others are quite different and slightly art-based, allowing students to explore otherwise untapped fields of knowledge.
- Business Management
- Global Health, Ethics and Law
- Public Health
- Medical Education
There is always some link to medicine (even if it is small) which allows students to apply everything they learn back to their core degree.
These degrees are provided by the university that you attend, but some medical schools allow students to move to another institution if they want to. This could allow you to meet new people and feel what it is like to live at another university.
Reasons to Do an iBSc
Now that you have an idea as to what the degree is, let me give you an idea of how amazing doing one is.
Allows for Extra Points in FPAS Application
The Foundation Program Application System (aka FPAS), is the system which allows final year medical students to apply for their first two years as a doctor. It uses a scoring system out of 100.
Getting a first (1:1) in your BSc will allow you to have 4 extra points out of 100 and is probably one of the most popular reasons to do an iBSc.
Those 4 points can be the difference between getting into highly-competitive London or having to move to Manchester for two years.
However, note that the most important thing in terms of the FPAS application is the SJT exam that you sit in your final year.
Getting an extra few points won’t make a difference if you don’t do well in that exam. That’s because it counts for 50 out of the 100 points and has the single biggest impact of your application.
Just something to be aware of.
Learn New Skills
In a medical degree, you tend to stick to the same few things week-in week-out. Lectures, labs and placements account for over 80% of medical school.
It is no surprise then that by doing a completely different degree, you are likely to learn new skills that you could never have thought of before.
For example, in my biomedical engineering BSc, I have learnt how to properly use MS Excel as well as a completely new program that I had never heard before called MATLAB.
These are transferrable skills which can be used in the future if I ever want to code or assess statistics of a website (like Revising Rubies). There are probably many uses that I can’t even think of.
It is always good to expose yourself to new ideas and go down a novel path that is unrelated to what you normally do. It helps you grow and create things that others wouldn’t be able to dream.
So if you are into the mantra of lifelong learning that medical students are supposed to be, then you should definitely do an iBSc.
Gain Research Experience
A little known path that you can pursue as a doctor is one as a clinical research physician.
It is unique as you will be directly involved in patient care while also being in contact with scientists and researchers. If this is something you would like to do then doing a BSc while at medical school is a great place to start!
There are few opportunities to do research in medical school. You have to go out of your way to ask consultants and researchers if they have any research you can partake in.
Most BSc programs though have research as an integral part of the degree. This makes it ideal for someone wanting to expose themselves to the research side of medicine while not having to go down the rabbit hole of persuing endless emails with consultants.
If you are lucky, you can even get your research published in a journal which will be a massive help when applying for future research jobs.
Unfortunately, it will be unlikely that your research BSc will have patient contact. However, it does make it easier to get clinically-related research projects later.
Explore a Topic of Interest in More Depth
A lot of the specialities and subjects in medical school are covered very shallowly.
That’s because there is simply too much to learn.
People spend 7 years learning about their speciality and becoming masters of their craft, and that is after 5 years of medical school and 2 years of foundation year training.
Trying to therefore pack the knowledge of dozens of specialities into a 5-year course is an impossible feat.
So what are you supposed to do if you find yourself interested in a particular area?
Short of specialising in that area, you can do an intercalated BSc!
The number of BScs that are on offer in the UK is vast and if your university allows you to go to another place to do your degree, then you are guaranteed to find the speciality/subject that you want to learn more about.
Mix With Students From Other Degrees
Sometimes, it’s good to be around different people.
Medicine is great as you get to stick with the same people for 6 years, but it can limit the number of new experiences you can have.
For example, in high school, I was perfectly happy with my core group of 5 friends. I would spend every spare hour with them and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it.
Then, in Year 12, a bunch of new people came to the school. At first, it was difficult to get used to being with new people every day, however, I eventually got used to it and made some good friends.
Unbeknownst to me, one of my new friends would end up going to a London medical school and starting up a website with similar ambitions to my own. We give each other advice and share business ideas while still having a great friendship/
Meeting new people is scary at first, but it can be well worth it in the long run.
Experience Other Universities
As I have said before, some medical schools allow you to go to other universities to complete your iBSc. This is a great opportunity to get away from your comfort zone and explore a new area of the country.
It is an awesome and exciting experience when you visit somewhere that you have never been to before. Best of all, you have a whole year to explore!
You Don’t Have to Pay Extra
Due to the NHS bursary scheme, you won’t have to pay an extra £9250 to do this degree.
That’s because medical students only pay for the first 4 years of their degree. If they then have a fifth or sixth year, it is paid for by the NHS.
Therefore, even if you take your BSc, you will still pay the same amount as if you don’t take it. However, living expenses like rent and food will still have to be paid for (but you do get a £1000 minimum grant which can be increased based on your household income).
For more information on this, visit the NHS website.
Academic Foundation Year Programme
If you are interested in doing the AFP, then you should certainly be doing a BSc. It is one of the most competitive foundation programmes in the country and is known to reject people based on a difference of one point.
I am not gonna talk about it in any depth, but if you want to learn more here are some resources:
- UK Foundation Programme
- The Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) at Oxford
- Cochrane Article – What is the Academic Foundation Programme?
Reasons NOT to Do an iBSc
Now that you are convinced that you should be doing an iBSc, let me swing you back in the other direction and give you some reasons why you shouldn’t do one.
You Already Have a Degree
If you are a graduate that already has a degree, then you probably don’t want to intercalate. You wouldn’t be gaining anything from it other than more university time.
If you end up going to a university which forces you to do a BSc, then you are unlucky. You don’t have much of a choice.
You Want to Be a GP
This one is, admittedly, slightly controversial.
It is certainly the case that becoming a GP is much easier than any other speciality. There is a high demand for it and not much supply.
Therefore, if you want to just get your degree over and done with and become a consultant GP, you might want to consider giving the iBSc a skip.
It will most likely not make a difference to your application and will just waste a year in studying something that you might never use again (although that could be said for a lot of specialities).
You Can Wait
You can actually do a degree at any point after you graduate.
It is a fact that most people are probably peripherally aware of, but never give it much consideration. There is no need to force yourself into doing a degree because you feel you might regret it.
If you want to be a doctor for a couple of years and then do a 1-year masters programme, then you can certainly do that!
You Want to Do an MSc or PhD Instead
Another little known fact is how doing an intercalated BSc is not the only option available to you. You can even do a 1 year Masters or 3 year PhD.
Many universities have the option of doing a Masters or even a PhD.
It is well worth looking into if you would like to do one, however, they can be competitive to get into and much more work than a normal medical school year. So decide if you want to commit yourself to the slog before applying.
So now let’s discuss a common question that medical students tend to have: How many students actually end up intercalating?
How Many Students Intercalate?
Find out how many students intercalate in a typical medical school – a common question that people want the answer to.
If your university forces you to intercalate then it’s obvious that everyone in the year will be doing it.
However, the question becomes difficult to answer if you go to a university that has the iBSc as an optional year out.
Across the UK, about one-third of medical students intercalate (according to this 2010 study). However, this is biased as it includes universities that force intercalation and those where you simply cannot even if you want to.
It might be more useful to look at individual medical schools.
At the University of Aberdeen, 18% of students intercalated between 2006-07.
At the University of Leeds on the other hand, approximately 50% of students intercalate.
You can see just how variable the percentage is depending on which university you go to, however, hopefully, these statistics give you a useful insight into how many students intercalate.
My Intercalated BSc Experience
In this section, I discuss some of the reasons why I chose to do an iBSc and briefly describe how my experience has been so far.
I have talked objectively about the reasons why you should and shouldn’t do an iBSc.
Now, I want to tell you why I did a degree in Biomedical Engineering at QMUL and what my experience has been.
Why I Did It
The main reason I did it was because I have always been interested in Engineering. Ever since I was young I was intrigued and curious about cars, motors, bridges and the such.
I would watch shows that went into depth about how the tallest building in the world was made and the incredible engineering feats of the 21st century.
I ended up choosing medicine for various reasons, but the fascination for how machines worked remained. Therefore, I vowed that if I was going to do a BSc, it would be in Engineering.
Another, slightly less romantic reason was that it is supposedly one of the easiest BScs that QMUL has to offer. I wanted to spend time on this website and exploring other business options, and so it seemed like the perfect fit for me and my passions.
How It Has Been So Far
Overall, it has been a mixed bag.
The content has been challenging and very different from what I am used to.
For example, my research project is about building and designing a robotic prosthetic hand for use in amputee patients. I have been learning software like MATLAB which is completely out of my comfort zone.
But the teaching hasn’t been the best and it is difficult to know what the researchers want me to do. Let’s dive into the specifics.
Unfortunately, due to COVID, I have been unable to go into any labs. Normally, they allow students to design the apparatus and then test what they made. This would have been a novel and thoroughly enjoyable experience for me. Alas, it is not possible in the current climate.
On the other hand, being stuck at home has made the degree a lot more relaxed. On most days I can wake up at 10/11 and don’t have much to do until midday and can easily make time for this website.
I only have 2 lectures a week with another supervisor meeting on top of that. However, things are starting to pile up and deadlines for coursework are fast approaching.
It is much less work than a normal medical year, but considering I was expecting to do almost no work, it is much more demanding than what other people made out.
The teaching has been mixed. Some professors are monotone and boring while others engage all the students and make the lessons enjoyable.
One teaching in particular has been excellent. Even though I might not like the content of the module, the professor’s attitude to teaching is excellent and makes the content seem much more enjoyable than I would have thought possible.
The organisation of the degree has been terrible. It is has made me realise just how amazing the people who work at the medical school are.
The lack of effective communication resulted in the first few weeks being an extension of the summer holiday. And then once deadlines started coming up, I realised that I needed to do some of the work.
Eventually, I was able to figure out what I was doing.
Staying At QMUL
Barts gives you the option to move to another university if you wish. However, you have to be in the top half of the year to stand a chance (which I am unfortunately not due to distractions like *cough* Revising Rubies *cough*. Not that I am making excuses of course.
Therefore, I didn’t have much of a choice in terms of moving to another university, although I would have enjoyed going to another London university for a change.
If you are still unsure about what to do, then you can check out these articles for some further reading.
Otherwise, if you have decided on whether you want to intercalate or not, you might be wondering what the pathway after you become a doctor looks like.
If so, then you can check out this article where I discuss the Training Pathway to Become a Consultant Doctor.
Have a good day!