What it Takes to Get Into Medical Schools in Europe, U.S. and the U.K.
The moment you decide you want to pursue a career in Medicine, you know you are expected to go through a lot of hard work and inevitably many hours of study. However, all your efforts will be worth it in the end. After all, being a doctor is one of the noblest and most rewarding professions in the world.
Applying to med school is not something you should do superficially. You have to choose your medical school wisely. To make your mission easier, we’ll present the most common entry requirements to medical schools from Europe, the US and UK.
We’ll also throw in extra information like what GPA you’ll need to apply, what undergraduate degrees are accepted, and if you need an entry exam to get into medical school. So, what does it take to get into a medical school?
1. Admission requirements for medical school studies in Europe
These are some of the most common admission criteria for Medicine degrees offered by European universities:
- High school diploma (certificate)
- Good marks in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Math
- Letters of recommendation
- Letter of motivation
- Voluntary or work experience related to healthcare
- Candidates taking the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) must offer three subjects including Chemistry and Biology at Higher Level, plus three subjects at Standard Level. Not all universities require an International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB).
- Minimum TOEFL and IELTS results
The requirements we’ve listed above are the most common, but Europe is a large continent, and some countries have different admission criteria or systems. Here are several examples:
- Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in France
In France, each academic institution can have different admission criteria, and Medical studies are divided into 3 cycles- The first cycle (PCEM) lasts 2 years. At the end of the first year, there’s a difficult examination which determines who goes into the second year. Usually, only 15-20% of Medicine students pass.
The second cycle (DCEM) lasts 4 years. It includes theoretical classes and exams, as well as training periods in healthcare institutions. In the last year, med students take a national examination and the grade determines their specialisation.
The third cycle is split into General Medicine and Specialised Medicine. The internships for General Medicine usually last 3 years. For Specialised Medicine, an internship can take 4-5 years to complete. At the end of the third cycle, all students receive a Specialised Studies Diploma (in French, DES: Diplôme d’Études Spécialisées).
The last step is writing and successfully defending a thesis before a jury, after which graduates receive their diplomas in Medicine. To practise Medicine, you still have to register with the Conseil National de l’Ordre des Médecins.
- Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in Germany
In Germany, you’ll encounter the Numerus Clausus (NC), which stands for Limited Number in Latin. It is a system used to determine the number of available Medicine places for students. The number of available places varies from one semester/year to another and you must have a certain overall grade to be admitted.
Medicine degrees in Germany take at least 6 years and 3 months to complete, and they are not divided into Bachelor’s and Master’s courses. In order to graduate you will have to take a state examination.
The path to becoming a doctor in Germany can be split into several main stages:
- Stage I studies – 4 semesters followed by the first 3 sections of the state examination
- Stage II studies – 6 semesters
- Completion of a practical year (PJ) at a hospital or clinic
- The second and final state examination after which you receive your licence to practise Medicine in Germany
It’s very important to develop good German language skills, because most lectures and examinations are in German.
- Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, if you cannot prove you’ve studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Maths, you’ll need to take an exam that will test your competence in these subjects. You’ll also need to learn Dutch. This is necessary to complete your postgraduate studies and to communicate with your future patients.
Dutch Medicine degrees fall in the category of Numerus Fixus or Decentralised Selection programmes. This means the number of places is limited and you can only apply for two Numerus Fixus programmes.
These are the stages you go through to become a qualified doctor in the Netherlands:
- Graduate a Bachelor’s in Medicine – 3 years. You’ll attend lectures and prepare assignments.
- Finish a Master’s in Medicine – another 3 years, during which you take part in different internships. You also need to write a Master’s thesis.
- To start working as a medical specialist, you have to register with the Royal Dutch Medical Association (RDMA).
- Medical school admission and becoming a doctor in Italy
Italian universities use the Numerus Clausus system for both Medicine degree places and the professional training that takes place after graduation.
Some med schools in Italy require that students pass the IMAT (International Medical Admissions Test) or a similar admission exam, which tests the applicants’ logical skills and their knowledge of English, Biology, Chemistry, and other Science-related subjects.
The Medicine degree takes 6 years to complete and is followed by a 6-month clinical placement. You must then pass a national exam to become a registered physician. After passing that examination, you can start the specialisation training, which takes between 3-6 years, depending on your area of expertise.
2. Admission requirements for medical school studies in the U.S.
In the US, Medical degrees are considered second entry degrees, meaning you cannot enrol directly in a Medicine Bachelor’s. You first need to do a Bachelor’s (undergraduate) degree in a related Science subject (popular choices are Biology and Chemistry) before you apply to a medical school. Then, you can enrol in a Medicine degree that usually lasts 4 years.
Here are the general med school requirements for the US:
- High school diploma
- Undergraduate degree in the field of Sciences (3-4 years)
- Minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0
- Good TOEFL language scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Extracurricular activities
- Minimum MCAT exam result (set by each university individually)
Some American med schools have additional requirements, like completing premedical courses, such as:
- College Biology with laboratory, one year
- General college Chemistry with laboratory, one year
- Biology, Chemistry – minimum of 24 semester hours in areas of Humanities
- Mathematics (Calculus and/or Statistics, one year (6-8 semester hours)
- General college Physics with laboratory, one year (8 semester hours)
What is the MCAT?
The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a multi-choice exam created by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Almost all US medical schools require applicants to submit MCAT exam scores during their university application.
The MCAT exam takes approximately 7 hours and a half to complete and it is comprised of 4 main parts:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behaviour
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
Becoming a doctor in the US
Throughout the Medical degree, students develop their soft skills (communication, empathy, cooperation, etc.) and advance their medical knowledge.
During the last year, students choose a specialisation based on their interests and other factors and apply to residency programmes. The vast majority are matched through the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).
During residency, medical graduates train in hospitals with other healthcare practitioners. The residency can take between 3-7 years to complete depending on their specialisation. After completing this stage, residents can undertake a fellowship, which lasts 1-2 years and focuses on a sub-specialisation.
To practise Medicine, physicians or doctors have to be licensed by the state in which they want to work. The criteria for certification are established by 24 Specialty Boards. These boards require regular recertification due to the fast changes that occur in Medicine and Healthcare.
3. Admission requirements for medical school studies in the UK
We’ve listed below some of the most common requirements for applicants to medical schools in Britain. Be aware that each university is free to set its own criteria, which is why we encourage you to check the admission details on the webpage of the study programme.
Bachelor’s degree in Medicine (MBBS) in the UK
- Previous (high school) studies it at least two Science subjects. Usually, Chemistry and Biology or Physics/Maths are mandatory.
- Proof of English language proficiency: IELTS – average score of 6.0 or 6.5, or PTE Academic
- UCAT test score. Each university can use it differently. Some establish a minimum UCAT score they’ll accept. Other universities use a “points system” for evaluating applications and will offer you more points for a higher UCAT result.
- International Baccalaureate, with at least 36 points overall, including three higher level subjects (including Chemistry and Biology), and three standard level subjects. Each subject must be passed with a minimum of six points. International Baccalaureate is not required by all universities from the UK.
- Successfully passing the interview(s)
- Evidence of voluntary or work experience related to medicine and healthcare
- Reference letter from teachers/academic supervisors
What is the UCAT?
The UCAT (previously called UKCAT, UK Clinical Aptitude Test) is an online test required by medical schools in the UK. It is designed to test cognitive abilities, attitudes, critical thinking, and logical reasoning.
The UCAT helps universities select applicants with the right abilities to pursue careers in the healthcare field. The UCAT test is not based on a science-related curriculum. The format of the test covers questions that assess logical skills, such as decision making, quantitative reasoning, and situational judgement.
Becoming a doctor in the UK
After completing the 4 or 5-year degree in Medicine, you get a provisional license.
The next step is the Foundation Programme, which involves different practical placements and training in healthcare institutions. The Foundation programme provides salaries, and it takes 2 years to complete (F1 – first year and F2 – second year). At the end of F1, you can apply for a licence and receive full registration from the GMC (General Medical Council).
You can then start General Practice or Specialty training, which can take between 3-8 years depending on what you want to focus on.