In my last blog post I announced that I’ve made the decision to intercalate in the next academic year and do a Masters in Healthcare Ethics and Law. The response to this has been incredible, I feel like hearing about everyone’s positives experiences of intercalating has affirmed my decision even further. I also received a lot of questions about intercalating and about little details that I didn’t address in the original post.

In this post I thought I’d bring together the intercalation-related questions I received and answer them here.

How long is your intercalation? It’s only 1 year.

Where are you intercalating? A very popular question – I’m intercalating at the University of Manchester, so I’ve decided to stay at the same university at which I’m studying Medicine.

Why did you choose to stay at Manchester? I decided to stay here because I found my ideal course so there was no need for me to look to go elsewhere. Manchester has a huge list (in fact I think they offer the largest list) of amazing intercalation opportunities to choose from and this particular one in Ethics and Law really jumped out at me. There are other universities that offer Ethics and Law, however, I love Manchester (both as a city and a uni) and this past year of being at my base hospital I’ve missed it quite a bit. The Ethics and Law teaching we’ve had so far as part of Medicine has been incredible too so I wouldn’t want to pass up on that level of teaching.

Why did you choose Healthcare Ethics and Law? I’ve always loved ethics, I just love the complexity of ethical dilemmas and I do get quite passionate in debating ethical scenarios at times. I’ve had a love for Ethics before medical school: I did an AS level on Religious Studies which we had a module on Philosophy and 1 on Ethics which I absolutely loved. I’ve always wanted to learn more, I just love the complicated ways Ethics makes you think and broadens your perspective on everyday events that would initially appear normal to you. I also wanted the intercalation to be a break form Medicine and something less Scientific and different – Ethics and Law perfect for that, the ideal choice!

Why did you choose a Masters over a BSc? I didn’t go out specifically looking to intercalate in a Masters, I was more focussed on the subject area that I wanted to do and that happened to be a Masters. I do think I would have been more inclined to go for a Masters either way because it can hold more value towards your foundation application.

How does intercalation help with your foundation application? As part of your foundation programme application you’re given a number of points out of 100. 50 of those points will be determined by your score in the SJT exam that you’ll take in 5th year. The remaining 50 come from your ranking within your medical school, and other educational achievements: additional degrees and any publications. For intercalating you can get up to an additional 4 points: a Masters will give you 4 points; a BSc can give you 1-4 points depending on the grade you achieve in it.

Why did you choose to do it after 3rd over after 4th year? I think this is down to individual preference and also differences in course structure between different medical schools. Students who’d intercalated at Manchester told me after 3rd year was the best time and it also felt right for me because now I’ve experienced a little bit of clinical Medicine, but haven’t learnt everything so intercalating shouldn’t mean that I forget a lot. 4th year is known to be the heaviest year at Manchester and in early 5th year you sit your final medical school exams so for our course structure I feel it makes better sense to do it after 3rd year. Ultimately it’s down to individual preference though, you might prefer to get the intense year out of the way and then take a break, but that way you’ll really have to make sure you can get back into Medicine quickly ahead of finals in 5th year.

Doesn’t intercalating disrupt your medical studies? I can’t speak for this properly as I haven’t experienced it yet, but from what I’ve heard from others who have intercalated, it’s a welcome break and rather than disrupting your medical studies it serves as a refresher so you come back freshened up. I also think it’s important to have a think about when you’re going to intercalate according to the way the course runs at your own medical schools (speak to older students to help you with this) as there will be times that it is less disruptive than others.

When will you graduate? If everything goes to plan, I’m supposed to graduate from the Masters next year, I’ll then go back and finish off my final 2 years of Medicine before I graduate with a Medical degree.

Can you share some of the pros and cons of intercalating? I’ve written about my thoughts on intercalating and listed positives and negatives here. Overall I think intercalation is wholly positive – there aren’t many strong negatives for it at all, so it’s ultimately down to you to make a personal decision of what feels right for you. The main pros are: opportunity to get 4 extra points when applying for a foundation job, an extra qualification and opportunity to learn more about a specific area of interest. The only real con for me is leaving your cohort of students if they’re not also intercalating.

How busy is an intercalated year? I can’t say for sure as I haven’t experienced it yet and I know it varies quite a bit depending on what course you choose. I know an MRes (Master of Research) is a lot more intense than an MSc (Master of Science). I do know that for the MSc in Healthcare Ethics and Law we’re normally expected to be in 2 days a week in the first semester and then 3 days a week in the second semester – so, that’s considerably less contact hours than Medicine and a lot more free time. But of course you’ll have independent studying during that time which I’ll hopefully keep you all updated on as I experience it.

Does every medical school allow you to intercalate? As far as I’m aware the opportunity is there at every undergraduate medical school. I’m not quite sure whether the same applies if you’re doing a graduate programme. In some medical schools (such as Imperial) you’re put on a 6 year programme meaning the intercalation is compulsory, but the majority allow you to choose.

How many medical students intercalate? I’m not quite sure is the honest answer. I’m sure the number will vary hugely between different medical schools. Looking at my own peer group at Manchester if I had to take a very rough estimate I’d probably say around a third, however, I have heard that it’s a lot higher at other medical schools. Bear in mind these estimates will be considering the entire cohort among which there’ll be graduate students who already have a previous degree and hence they’ll already benefit from the additional points as part of the foundation application.

Can anyone intercalate or do you have to meet certain requirements? Again, I think the requirements will vary across different medical schools. At Manchester to be eligible to apply for intercalation you have to pass all exams in your current year of study at first attempt. In order for your application to be approved you have to also obtain permission from your year lead or hospital Dean – the permission is based on professionalism or attendance issues so providing you don’t have any problems with any of those permission shouldn’t be a problem.

How early should you decide if you want to intercalate? I certainly did not decide early, so I guess it doesn’t really matter if you take a little longer to come to a final decision. Different medical schools may have different deadlines, but at Manchester to intercalate for the following year the “early application” deadline is in December and the “late application” deadline is in May. I think it’s generally good to start thinking about it properly in 2nd year and consider whether it appeals to you or not. That’s when I started properly looking in to it. You can’t intercalate after 1st year.

How do you apply to intercalate? For my application I had to produce a page CV and a page personal statement detailing why I want to intercalate, why I have chosen that particular course and how I think it’s going to benefit me in the future. I had to submit that via my university’s form system and they sorted the rest out.

How can I find out more about intercalation options? At Manchester we have an annual intercalation fair which is really useful to go to because you can find out more information about the options available at Manchester. Alternatively you can check out the Manchester website which has lots of information about the different options, the course structure etc. There’s also another website (intercalate.co.uk) that allows you to see intercalation options across the country if you’re thinking about going to a different medical school.

Do you have any advice for choosing what to intercalate in? The most important thing when choosing an area to intercalate in to choose something that genuinely interests you. You don’t want to take a year out of Medicine to be bored. Bear in mind that Medicine is very intellectually stimulating, so you’re going to have a genuine interest in another area for it to live up. If you have any specific future career plans you can also pick an intercalation to directly support that (e.g. Anatomy is a popular option for students who’re wanting to go in to Surgery). If you’re not sure yet (like me) you can always choose something that applicable to any field or you can just go with an interest even if it happens to be in a very specific area – no intercalation choice will close doors!

Of course, I don’t know everything there is to know about intercalation as I haven’t actually done it yet, but I’ve tried to answer the questions to the best of my ability. I do think intercalation is one of those things that you get a good feeling for – right for some, not for others – go with your gut!


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Posted by:Life of a Medic

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