The topic of intercalation has been at the forefront of students’ minds as a result of the contentious decision of the UK Foundation Programme Organisation (UKFPO) to no longer award Foundation Programme Application System (FPAS) points for additional degrees as of 2023. This has caused a furore amongst medical students who have already decided to intercalate, with a strong reason being for educational achievements for foundation year applications.
The question is, if FPAS points are no longer awarded for foundation year applications, what’s the point of completing an intercalated degree? It is true that an intercalated degree is not for everyone and the decision to intercalate or not is a personal decision for each person. It does depend on what matters most in that person’s life, and several factors may sway their decision.
Reasons not to intercalate
One of the reasons to intercalate has been taken away – FPAS points for foundation year applications. If you’re planning on going to a relatively competitive foundation school for your F1 and F2, an intercalated degree was a great way of boosting your points. Now that that’s gone, if the main priority of your foundation rotations is location, then intercalation becomes immaterial – take it or leave it. It doesn’t benefit you.
There are some associated costs with doing an intercalated degree. This might not be so applicable for medical schools such as Oxbridge, UCL and Imperial, where intercalation is part of the 6-year programme. For other medical schools, it remains optional. An intercalated degree is an extra year in education and medical school. Some of you reading this may want to finish medical school ASAP and get working as a doctor and earning. If that’s the case, then intercalation will delay your objective by a year. Furthermore, many A100 medical students tend to come into undergraduate medicine having already completed a degree. Having two BScs is often redundant (with exceptions) for your future career, so is it the wisest use of your time and efforts?
I am reluctant to make this next point as financial restraints shouldn’t ideally stop people from pursuing an intercalated degree if they’re interested, but it remains an important factor to consider. Although the extra year’s tuition will be paid for by the NHS bursary, the living costs associated with an extra year’s accommodation with travel, food and other expenses will not. Therefore, if you’re tight on cash and not sure if you can afford an extra year of living costs, you might want to carefully consider whether completing an intercalated degree is a wise thing.
Something that one needs to be aware of is just doing an intercalated degree because everyone else is doing it. A large proportion of the cohort often choose to intercalate, many of which will be your close friends. I would want to warn against doing an intercalated degree just because everyone else is doing it. Make sure you have independent reasons for wanting to intercalate; otherwise, you may just end up intercalating even though you don’t enjoy the topic or the extra study. You can still spend time with your friends even though you’re continuing clinical medicine and they are intercalating!
Lastly, some students may not enjoy the transition between medicine and a different topic. I intercalated in biomedical engineering, which was significantly different from medicine. As a result, I found studying the topic quite tricky as it involved more physics and mechanics rather than the classical biochemistry medics often study. Luckily, many intercalated degrees have a strong medical link which does aid in understanding the material, but it’s just one thing to watch out for.
Reasons to intercalate
Intercalated degrees are fantastic for developing some key skills that medics will find useful in their future career. The nature of an intercalated degree is that you spend a year studying a particular discipline in more depth. Don’t worry if your home university doesn’t offer a course which you are interested in, as there are many intercalated degrees available throughout the country which are bound to contain something you are interested in and certainly at my medical school, they do allow students to intercalate externally. This focussed time can be used to do research in a speciality, potentially leading to the publication of your results and being able to present your results at a national or international conference. All this counts for post-graduate applications and is not something to be sniffed at.
Intercalated degrees in themselves have huge merits for post-graduate applications, even if you don’t manage to publish anything. For the specialised foundation programme (previously known as the academic foundation programme), having an intercalated degree counts for points when it comes to shortlisting for interviews – I’m speaking from a London perspective, but this is likely to be true for other specialist units of application (SUoAs). Furthermore, with core surgical training (CST) and internal medical training (IMT)[ii] having an intercalated degree counts for points on your application, so by simply completing an intercalated degree, you will have a competitive edge on your application.
Although it might sound lame on paper, the time spent reading papers and critically evaluating them is really helpful, especially if you are interested in academic medicine. In a world suffering from information overload, it is super important to be able to appraise papers critically so you know which papers to base your clinical practice on. At the end of an intercalated degree, you are usually expected to write a dissertation reporting on the results you have obtained. Writing your dissertation is good practice for academic writing in the future – an intercalated degree is a great stepping stone for that!
There are undoubtedly other reasons for and against completing an intercalated degree I’ve missed out on. Still, I hope what’s been written here has been enlightening for you and aids in your decision making on whether to intercalate or not. Please also reach out to a medical student who has not intercalated. They will have great insights from their experiences!