It’s been a while and now we’re knee-deep into the new academic year. I’ve been super busy with a lot of different projects, but I thought it was about time I took a moment to give a little insight into how I’m finding intercalation so far!

For anyone who doesn’t know, an intercalation is a year you can take out of your medical degree to study a different subject area. I chose to go for Healthcare Ethics & Law. I’ve talked more about my reasons for choosing to intercalate here. Now I’ve had nearly 3 months of the course and am nearing the end of my first semester…so how am I finding it? And how does it compare to what I expected?

Compared to medicine

I wanted the course I chose to be completely different to medicine as I wanted it to feel like a break. I was certainly right in picking this course, I’d say it’s almost the polar opposite of what studying medicine was like. It’s not only the subject content which is different, but also the way in which you learn. Medicine is more about learning facts and being able to recall them, whereas this course is about understanding arguments and being able to formulate your own. You don’t need to memorise anything so of course, I’ve had to adjust the way I work again.

The nature of the course doesn’t surprise me and is what I wanted – after all I didn’t want to intercalate in something scientific!

The subject content

So far, the 2 modules we’ve had are Philosophical Bioethics and Medico-legal Problems. As in their names, Bioethics covers ethical dilemmas that are encountered in healthcare, thinking about topics such as abortion or right to decline treatment. Medico-legal problems is focussed on healthcare law, covering topic areas such as negligence, consent etc. I’ve been finding the subject matter really interesting, each area of ethics and law we delve into significant depth and bring to light questions and arguments the would have never crossed my mind. This course will definitely broaden my ability to think critically.

I initially expected the topics to be a minor extension of the ethical principles we cover in medicine, however it’s much more than a minor extension. The course units go into significant depth, bringing up completely new and complex ideas. Often the arguments on each side of the debate are incredibly compelling and I find myself finding it difficult to choose a position. If you know me, you’ll know I love things like that!

The workload

One thing I have to admit was different to what I expected is the workload. The volume of work each week is immense, I think I can even say that the volume of study time required in order to cover the compulsory reading material is significantly more than what was required for 3rd year of medical school. Perhaps literature-based courses are like that, but with me comparing it to Medicine the workload is a lot more than I expected.

Before beginning this year I was under the impression that intercalating would be more of a relaxed year compared to Medicine. I thought I’d have a lot more free time to pursue extra-curricular interests, but I have to say I was wrong. Not complaining in the slightest, but the truth is that intercalation is just as, if not more full on than Medicine.

Teaching method

Before beginning I thought a lot of the content would be delivered in the form of lectures. I was rather looking forward to having a bit more of that easy passive form of learning, but turns out I was completely wrong. I’m not sure if lectures have been omitted this year because of the changes introduced by distanced-learning or if this course is usually like this, but lectures are practically non-existent. We’ve had a very small number of short 10 minute ones online, but it’s definitely not the primary method of teaching.

The main way you learn is through independent reading. You’re supplied with a long document per week, per module with an outline of the topic alongside references to textbook chapters that need to be read and an additional reading list. You then go through this and read and understand the content yourself; formulate your own views using questions posed throughout the document. We do have weekly online seminars where there’s the opportunity to discuss/share ideas and listen to opposing views, but the core understanding of a topic using the reading material is independent and done through private study more than I expected.

Overall, I think I might prefer this teaching method. Lectures would definitely be difficult to concentrate in especially in the climate of online learning and the documents provided contain all the arguments we need to be aware of so it’s made super easy for us!


I knew all assessment would be in the form of essays so no surprises there! I don’t mind writing essays too much, but I do find it more stressful than your standard fact-based exam. So far we have had 1 short essay and been assigned another 2 with a deadline after Christmas. Essays were expected so matches my expectation perfectly. On thing I did not expect however, is to be assigned an essay only a few weeks into the course. This was a bit difficult since the last time I wrote an essay was when I was doing my AS in Religious Studies (so 4 years ago). I’d have expected the essay-writing to be eased in more slowly or reserved for later on in the course, but I suppose the earlier we get writing the more preparation we have for the final dissertation.

Overall, intercalation is going well. I have a hectic and busy life alongside intercalation all documented on Instagram if you want to join.

You may have heard recent news about changes being made to points allocated to medical students as part of FPAS rankings. Essentially, medical students get points for extra academic activities (intercalating being one of them) which the UKFPO have announced a sudden change to, meaning students currently intercalating will no longer benefit from it when being allocated their first job. Although points should not be the sole reason for someone to intercalate, I do think it’s quite disheartening to know my efforts this year will not benefit me when being ranked for my first job. This doesn’t just affect students intercalating, but a range of other students including those on 6 year programmes, graduate entry students etc. If you have a moment, please could you sign this petition to encourage a review of the decision. You can also read more about it under the link.

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Posted by:Life of a Medic

One thought on “My Intercalated Masters: Expectations v Reality

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