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5 alternatives to studying medicine if you want a career in healthcare

By Aisha K

Updated May 5, 2022 Updated May 5, 2022

A career in healthcare remains one of the most respected professions in today’s job market for several factors: a wide variety of work, intellectual challenges and the opportunity to have a positive impact on people’s lives.  

While a degree in medicine might seem like the best choice for working in healthcare roles, a high level of competition for places could mean it’s worth exploring similar subjects suited to your interests and to avoid disappointment.  

For example, the Medical Schools Council reported that the total number of applications to study medicine at UK universities for entry in 2021 was 28,690, an increase of almost 21 percent compared to applications in 2020. 

Although some may have their heart set on medicine, related subjects could be viable options for graduate entry into medicine or can provide direct entry to fulfilling careers that support the health care system.  

We’ve used the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022 to find out which universities are top performers in each subject area.  

Without further ado, here are five alternative degrees to medicine for careers in the healthcare industry. 

Biomedical sciences 

Biomedical Sciences

Biomedical science is the study of how cells, organs and systems function in the human body. For health care professionals, it’s an area that’s highly relevant to understanding and treating human diseases. Studying a biomedical sciences degree involves a wide range of topics such as genetics, human anatomy and microbiology.  

A degree in biomedical sciences can open up doors to careers within science and medicine, especially due to increased demand for graduates in the biomedical profession. Students can expect to gain experience in laboratory work – planning, carrying out and evaluating experiments – as well as general transferrable skills such as project management, statistics and problem-solving.  

Potential careers include biomedical scientist, a role that is critical to helping doctors diagnose and treat diseases. Graduates can also find work as clinical scientists, forensic scientists, biotechnologists and microbiologists.  

Top ranked institutions offering degrees in biomedical sciences include the University of Oxford (ranked fifth for biological sciences). Students can choose to graduate after three years with a BA degree or complete a research-intensive fourth year leading to a master’s degree.  

Top universities for biological sciences 2022 

Rank 

School 

Location 

Harvard University 

United States 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

United States 

University of Cambridge 

United Kingdom 

Stanford University 

United States 

University of Oxford 

United Kingdom 

Pharmacology 

Pharmacology

A degree in pharmacology looks at the study of drugs and how they affect the body in terms of their chemical properties, biological effects and therapeutic uses. As a research-focused subject, students will also examine the operation of clinical trials and drug regulation, along with creating remedies for physical and mental illnesses.  

Typical modules covered in a pharmacology degree include cellular and molecular biology, immunology, toxicology and clinical drug development. A career as a pharmacologist entails discovering new medicines and improving the safety and effectiveness of current medicine. Graduates can also consider careers as pharmacists, clinical and academic researchers.  

Ranked first for pharmacy and pharmacology, Monash University offers a Bachelor of Science where students can major in pharmacology. Students will be taught by academics who are leaders in their fields, and units include recent advances in pharmacology and future developments in the field.  

Top universities for pharmacy & pharmacology 2022 

Rank 

School 

Location 

Monash University 

Australia 

Harvard University 

United States 

University of Oxford 

United Kingdom 

UCL 

United Kingdom 

University of Nottingham 

United Kingdom 

Nursing

Nursing

Nursing is a vocational subject that focuses on providing care for individuals and communities who are unwell or injured and supports patients in their recovery. Aside from scientific knowledge and practical skills, nursing degrees also provide students with an ethical background to ensure a compassionate approach in dealing with patients.  

A variety of degrees can be studied, such as adult nursing, children’s nursing, mental health nursing and learning disabilities. Employment opportunities are promising due to the practical nature of the degree. For example, nursing is the UK’s most employable type of degree, as 94 percent of students find a job within six months of finishing their course. 

The University of Pennsylvania takes the top spot for nursing for this year’s ranking. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing puts focus on community involvement and cultural awareness. The programme offers students simulated clinical experiences in labs, designed to replicate real life health care settings and encourage knowledge-based competencies.  

Coming in second place for nursing, King’s College London offers a BSc in Nursing with Registration as an Adult Nurse. As part of the degree, students can undertake placements at famous London hospitals, such as King’s College Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital. Graduates will meet the academic and clinical standards set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (2018), King’s College London and Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2016). 

Top universities for nursing 2022 

Rank 

School 

Location 

University of Pennsylvania 

United States 

King’s College London 

United Kingdom 

Johns Hopkins University 

United States 

University of Washington 

United States 

University of Southampton 

United Kingdom 

Chemistry

Chemistry

Chemistry is the study of matter, its structure, properties, behaviour and how and why matter undergoes certain changes. A chemistry degree will often cover modules in inorganic and organic chemistry, physical chemistry and analytical methods. Students learn about the properties of atoms and how they form chemical bonds and compounds.  

Potential careers directly related to a chemistry degree can include chemical engineers, academic researchers, nanotechnologists, and research scientists. Choosing further study is also a popular choice among chemistry graduates. Students can choose to specialise in areas that may be in demand, such as forensic investigation and forensic nanotechnology.  

In terms of top institutions, MIT ranks first for chemistry. In addition to studying a chemistry major, students can take the ChemFlex Option, designed for those who intend to pursue chemistry as a career and plan to go into an allied field which requires a sound knowledge of chemistry. Examples of focus areas include climate science, neuroscience, energy, materials chemistry and science policy.  

Top universities for chemistry 2022 

Rank 

School 

Location 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

United States 

Harvard University 

United States 

Stanford University 

United States 

University of Cambridge 

United Kingdom 

University of California, Berkeley (UCB) 

United States 

Psychology

Psychology

Although not directly linked to medicine, psychology is the study of the human mind and behaviour and seeks to understand how individuals and groups think and behave. Degrees in psychology incorporate different areas such as cognitive processes, evolutionary psychology and conceptual and historical issues in terms of how psychological explanations have changed over time.   

Students will also learn about research methods and how to conduct quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis.  

In order to practise psychology professionally, graduates can take postgraduate training and become a chartered or clinical psychologist. Other career paths could include educational psychologists and speech and language therapists. 

UCL’s BSc in Psychology (ranked seventh for psychology) provides students with a broad coverage of topics in the first two years, allowing students to specialise in their field of interest in the final year. Examples of modules include Memory and Decision, Genes and Behaviour and Perception. The programme is accredited and audited by the British Psychological Society (BPS), and as a graduate, students will be eligible to become a member of the BPS. 

Top universities for psychology 2022 

Rank 

School 

Location 

Harvard University 

United States 

Stanford University 

United States 

University of Oxford 

United Kingdom 

University of Cambridge 

United Kingdom 

University of California, Berkeley (UCB) 

United States 

This article was originally published in May 2022 .

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Written by

Aisha is Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, creating and publishing a wide range of articles for an international student audience. A native Londoner, Aisha graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in Philosophy and has previously worked in the civil service. 

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