Is it possible to pursue a career in medicine in the UK after graduating from Harvard College?
We are often asked about the possibility of studying medicine at Harvard. A recent graduate, Dr. Laura Spence, Graduating Class of ’04, has written below about her experience preparing for a medical career in the UK.
Can I actually study medicine at Harvard?
In the US, the training for medicine is post-graduate rather undergraduate. Potential doctors study for undergraduate degrees in various subjects while undertaking courses in maths, biology, chemistry and physics that are required for entry into US medical schools. Depending on the undergraduate degree programme, these may be modules that contribute towards the degree or may need to be taken alongside. This means it is possible to prepare for a professional degree in medicine while concentrating in an arts or social sciences subject.
So when I’ve done an undergraduate degree, can I study medicine in the USA?
Although UK citizens are allowed to apply to medical schools in the US, the number of places allowed for international applicants can be quite restricted. Entry to US medical schools is a highly competitive process, requiring strong grades throughout university and excellent performance on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Fees at a US medical school may cost $55,000 per year, and there are fewer funding opportunities for international applicants.
…or study medicine at all?
The post-graduate system of medical training is not unique to the US. Canada and Australia have four-year post-graduate medical courses and the UK has a growing number. There is also the option of applying to a five or six-year undergraduate UK medical course as a mature student.
So why go to Harvard if I am interested in medicine?
Committing yourself to start professional training in medicine at the age of 18 may be daunting for a number of reasons. Perhaps you have academic interests that you wouldn’t have the opportunity to explore during focused medical training. Perhaps you’re a committed athlete, musician or charity worker and wouldn’t be able to engage in these activities while rotating around a region on hospital placements. Or perhaps you may feel you just haven’t seen enough of life to start engaging and empathising with patients yet.
What I did…
I thought I wanted to be a doctor from early in secondary school but enjoyed A-levels in both arts and sciences subjects. Harvard gave me the opportunity to study Biological Sciences in more depth than is possible in a medical course, develop an interest in psychology, learn a language and sample a broad range of courses from Russian Literature to Organic Chemistry. I attended classes taught by leading international academics, and made life-long friends with some remarkable class-mates. I was lucky enough to be suited to lightweight rowing, having done little sport before university, and I ended up competing for the university team for four years. Outside of classes and rowing, I had the opportunity to do charity work, scientific research and write a travel guide to San Francisco. These four fantastic years were well worth starting medicine a little later than most of my British colleagues. I think my Harvard experiences prepared me well for a career in medicine: after graduating, I was accepted onto the four-year Cambridge Graduate Course in Medicine and was then well prepared for the challenges of focused clinical learning in the UK. I have since entered UK post-graduate medical training and will specialize in academic Haematology.
While there are challenges to working on both sides of the Atlantic in medicine, I hope to pursue at least part of my training in the US.