Medical Degrees: Regional Differences
The most obvious difference is that while in countries like the UK and Australia it’s possible to enroll on a medical degree as soon as you leave secondary school, in the US and Canada medicine is only available as a graduate degree – meaning applicants need to complete between two and four years of undergraduate study first.
Studying medicine in the US or Canada
As mentioned, medical degrees are only available at graduate level in the US. Before you can apply to medical school, you need to complete four years of pre-med undergraduate study. For most students, this will be in a science subject such as biology or chemistry, but it can be any subject.
However, all students preparing for medical school are required to take courses in biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry, and some schools may also require you to take courses in a humanities subject such as English.
The requirements are set by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and individual medical schools may also have additional requirements, which you can find in the most recent version of the AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements guide.
Medical schools in the US also require students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and most can be applied to through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS). Regardless of the number of medical schools you apply to, you submit just one online application to AMCAS.
Once you’ve secured a place at medical school, you’ll study for a further four years to gain either a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) or Doctor of Medicine (D.M.). Before you can become a licensed doctor, you’ll need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a three-step exam.
Both of the D.O and D.M titles qualify you to start practising medicine. However, you’ll then be required to complete a residency training program, which could last anywhere between three and seven years depending on your field of specialization. It’s likely that, even after this, you’ll continue to pursue further training in your field, through highly specialized training programs known as fellowships.
The system is largely the same in Canada, with prospective medical students again required to sit the MCAT to gain admission. Some universities offer fast-track medical degree programs which shorten the course to three years rather than the usual four or five. Courses are five years long for students who need to take a one-year preparatory course (if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree in a science subject).
Studying medicine in the UK or Australia
In the UK and Australia, the most common path to becoming a doctor is to take an undergraduate-level course in medicine.
The standard period for undergraduate medical degrees in both countries is either five or six years. However, for those who’ve already graduated from a degree in a different subject, it may be possible to take a four-year fast-track course.
Some UK medical and dentistry schools also require candidates to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). This doesn’t test scientific knowledge, but assesses mental abilities, aptitudes and attitudes. You also need to have studied science subjects at high-school level, and have proof of your proficiency in English if you’re not a native speaker.
Students applying to study medicine in the UK need to submit their application via the centralized admissions service UCAS (the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). The deadline for applications for medical courses is 15 October every year.
Australian institutions, meanwhile, ask for undergraduate medical students to sit the Undergraduate Medicine and health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT), or at graduate level, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT). You may also be asked to attend an interview. You should submit your application directly to your chosen institutions via their official websites.
Both the undergraduate and graduate routes in the UK and Australia lead to a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) qualification, which is generally considered equivalent to the D.O. or D.M. gained in North America. Some Australian universities offer a five-year combined Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine (MD) program, replacing the MBBS.
In the UK, graduates then enrol on the two-year Foundation Programme, during which they complete placements in a variety of different healthcare specializations, before applying for Medical Specialty Training.
In Australia, the next step after the MBBS is a one-year supervised practise, known as an internship. This is followed by a residency, which usually lasts two or three years, and further specialized training.
Medical training degrees in Germany are free, but you’ll need to have a very good knowledge of both German and English. Programs take at least six years and three months to complete and spaces are very competitive.