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6 Important Ways Medical School Varies By Country

By Walied Ali

Updated March 6, 2019 Updated March 6, 2019

Studying medicine is no joke. Medical school prepares students so that they could save another person’s life at the time of need. Those who are planning to study medicine have to be prepared to invest a large amount of time and money during a five to six year period.

Each country has its own medical regulatory board, which makes sure that a new medical graduate or a foreign medical graduate has the skillset required to work as a physician in the country.

Based on my own research about where to study medicine abroad, here are some of the ways in which medical education differs from place to place:

1. Length of time to graduation

The length of time required to graduate from medical school differs depending on the country. For example, in Canada a three- to five-year medical degree titled MD is awarded to medical graduates. On the other hand, in India one must study a total of six years to obtain a medical degree.

2. Admission requirements

In the US and Canada, you have to obtain a bachelor’s degree first if you wish to study medicine. However, in many countries, including Pakistan, India and China, you can apply for a place at medical school soon after you graduate from high school.

3. Language of study

In European countries, medicine is taught in the local language (German, Dutch, Swiss etc.). This means that although many universities in Europe demand little or no tuition fees, the language remains a hurdle for foreign students looking to study medicine in Europe.

4. Nationality

In Canada, you cannot study medicine unless you’re a Canadian citizen or have been residing in the country for the last three years. In the US, some universities enroll international students for medical school, but charge them a very heavy fee, much more than the amount nationals pay.

5. Medical degree titles

Medical degree titles vary in different countries. In India and Pakistan, a medical degree is referred to as MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery). In the US and Canada, a medical degree is called MD (Doctor of Medicine). It’s MB (Bachelor of Medicine) in China, and MBCHB (Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae) in South Africa.

6. The influence of culture and tradition

In culturally rich countries like China, a typical medical degree also involves the study of traditional medical techniques such as acupuncture and cupping. Similarly, in India one can also learn Ayurveda along with modern medicine.

In the end, regardless of whether you’re a Harvard medical school graduate or a Somali physician, your medical education has to be on a par with international standards, otherwise you will not be able to practice internationally. 

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This article was originally published in January 2017 . It was last updated in March 2019

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Walied Ali is a graduate of a Naval High School in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. Aged 17, he is currently applying for a place in medical school. 

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