Medical degrees vary significantly in different countries. Find out what you need to know about studying medicine in the US, Canada, UK or Australia.
Wherever you choose to study medicine, you’ll need to be prepared for years of intensive and challenging study – and a life in which ongoing training plays a central role.
However, while all equally demanding, the path to becoming a doctor varies significantly among some of the world’s most popular study destinations.
The most obvious difference is that while in countries like the UK and Australia it’s possible to enrol on a medical degree as soon as you leave secondary school, in the US and Canada medicine is only available as a graduate degree – meaning applicants need to complete between two and four years of undergraduate study first.
Here’s what you need to know about studying medicine in one of these four leading destinations for higher education.
Studying medicine in the US or Canada
In the US, medical degrees are only available at graduate level. Before you can apply to medical school, you need to complete at least three years (usually four) of ‘pre-med’ undergraduate study.
The requirements for this are set by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
All students preparing for medical school are required to take courses in biology, chemistry, physics and English. Individual medical schools may also have additional requirements, which you can find in the most recent version of the AAMC’s Medical School Admission Requirements guide.
Most medical schools in the US also require students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and most can be applied to through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS).
Once you’ve secured a place at medical school, you’ll study for a further four years to gain either a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) or Doctor of Medicine (D.M.).
Both of these titles qualify you to start practising medicine. However, you’ll then be required to complete a residency training program, which could last anywhere between three and eight years depending on your field of specialization.
It’s likely that even after this, you’ll continue to pursue further training in your field, through training programs known as fellowships.
The system is largely the same in Canada, though some Canadian medical schools accept applicants who have completed only two years of undergraduate studies. Some also offer fast-track medical degree programs that take three years, rather than four.
Studying medicine in the UK or Australia
In the UK and Australia, the most common path to becoming a doctor is to take an undergraduate-level course in medicine.
The standard period for undergraduate medical degrees in both countries is either five or six years. However, for those who’ve already graduated from a degree in a different subject, it may be possible to take a four-year ‘fast-track’ course.
Some UK medical and dentistry schools also require candidates to take the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). This doesn’t test scientific knowledge, but assesses mental abilities, aptitudes and attitudes.
Both the undergraduate and graduate routes lead to a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) qualification, which is generally considered equivalent to the D.O. or D.M. gained in North America.
In the UK, graduates then enrol on the two-year Foundation Programme, during which they complete placements in a variety of different healthcare specializations, before applying for Medical Specialty Training.
In Australia, meanwhile, the next step after the MBBS is a one-year supervised practise, known as an internship. This is followed by a residency, which usually lasts two years, and further specialized training.
As you will have gathered by now, there’s no easy or fast route to becoming a doctor, no matter where you study. However, it wouldn’t be such a competitive and highly sought-after career, if it didn’t offer so many rewards as well.