Why intercalate

Every year, many medical students decide to take a year out of medical school and intercalate. There are a variety of reasons why students make this choice – some want time away from medicine, some seek to learn new skills, and others are keen to develop their CV. Every student journey is different and therefore every intercalation is different, so choosing the right intercalation can be tricky.

As a graduate entry medical student, many people asked me why I felt the need to intercalate – I already had a bachelor’s degree, so what was the point of taking even longer to get to the end goal of being a qualified doctor. I could never give them one reason and for me, it was a combination of several factors.

I started student life straight after my A-levels at the University of Birmingham and graduated with a bachelor of medical science (BMedSci). I went on to start the four year graduate entry medicine programme at the University of Nottingham later that year. However, half way through my third year, an opportunity arose to take a year out of study and work within the medical school in student liaison. I had already achieved the extra points on my Foundation Programme application from my previous degree, so why did the prospect of adding another year to my studies seem so appealing?

There were a number of reasons that factored into my decision.

  • A break from pure studies: I had not had a break from education since I started school. I had gone directly from my A-Levels to university without a gap year, and then straight into medical school. A year without exams and without the constant grind of ‘work guilt’ was appealing.
  • A competitive advantage: I was very aware that life after medical school was getting increasingly competitive and that any edge I could get would be an advantage in my future career!
  • Financial considerations: At the ripe old age of 25 and having studied for seven years straight, a paid opportunity and a year being self-sufficient – rather than relying on student loans and financial support from my parents – seemed like a good idea.
  • Finding myself: Finally, a year to pursue other interests and develop myself as a person, while furthering my CV felt like an opportunity I should take.

So, in August on my fourth year, while all my friends continued on to their final year, I took a step away and started working as the Nottingham medical school’s student outreach coordinator.

I gained many skills I now realise, working as a doctor, were invaluable in both my personal and professional development.

The day job

On a day to day basis, I was office based and sat within the medical education centre, working with the directors of the school to improve the student experience at Nottingham. The role was unique and had been developed following feedback from the student body that they wanted more engagement with the medical school. My main job was to be a link between the students and the staff. This involved travelling to all hospital sites our students were based at to meet them and hear their feedback, as well as designing and implementing any projects that may improve student experience. Alongside this, I was given the opportunity to do a fully-funded postgraduate certificate in any field I felt appropriate.

The opportunities my intercalation gave me

Over the year I was given many amazing opportunities; including visiting Singapore, Hong Kong & Dubai with the Dean of Medical Education to aid in international student recruitment. I helped organise and run the East Midlands Medical Education Conference, as well as design and set up a student serenity room in the library, running during exams to give students a place to relax and a break from revision.

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During the year, I also graduated with a postgraduate certificate (PGCert) in medical education, published a PubMed literature review with research from my BMedSci and completed the Edward Jenner NHS Leadership Academy programme. I believe it was also a key component in being successful in my Academic Foundation Programme application and has opened doors in both my clinical and academic career.

Was it the right move?

Yet, with all good opportunities, there were some challenges. Intercalating at Nottingham is not a normal occurrence, as all undergraduate medical students graduate with a BMedSci that is built into their curriculum. Secondly, finding the personal motivation to use the spare time in a 9-to-5 job was hard – it was easier to use my work free evenings to binge watch TV rather than write essays for my PGCert or complete another section on the Edward Jenner programme. Nevertheless, I gained many skills I now realise, working as a doctor, were invaluable in both my personal and professional development; including interpersonal skills, self-reliance, time management and organisational skills.

I would encourage anyone interested in doing an intercalation year to take up the opportunity, but would strongly advise that you choose a topic or area you’re interested in. Finding motivation to study or even engage in an intercalation can be difficult when you are disinterested in the topic and simply attempting to tick a box. It’s key to research the people you will be working with and the projects you will be involved and making sure the intercalation will develop skills that will be useful later in your career. Additionally, make sure you use the time to network, develop yourself and pursue interests outside of medicine.


This article was correct at publication on 05/02/2020. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Dr Victoria Fisher

Dr Victoria Fisher is an academic foundation year one doctor at King’s Mill Hospital in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. She grew up in the East Midlands and completed her A-levels in 2011. She graduated with a 2:1 bachelor’s degree from the University of Birmingham in Medical Science in 2014 and went on to study graduate entry medicine at the University of Nottingham graduating in July 2019. She also graduated from the University of Nottingham with a PGCert in Medical Education with a distinction. She hopes to complete her foundation training in the East Midlands, before applying for specialty training in anaesthetics as part of the acute core common stem (ACCS).

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