From 2023 entry onwards, the UK Foundation Programme Office (UKPO) has changed its stance on accepting intercalation for extra points on its application.
Prior to this change, additional degrees could be awarded up to five extra points (out of 100). But now with UKFPO allocation being preference-based and fewer specialty training applications awarding points for additional degrees, I wondered: is intercalation really worth it?
Why I chose to intercalate
In the end, I decided I wanted to do an intercalation year, and chose to go to Imperial College London (ICL) to study medical sciences with immunity and infection.
What I wanted
Primarily, I wanted a degree that was broadly applicable to different fields of medicine. Though being passionate about surgery, I didn't want to narrow my field of study to the extent that should I decide to follow a different specialty, my BSc was not relevant. Immunity and infection are pertinent to all areas of medicine, and particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more on people's minds than ever before.
With this broadness in mind, there was still an opportunity to narrow down the focus of my research during my final project. As I'm interested in plastic surgery, I was able to carry out relevant research surrounding necrotising fasciitis. Though certain specialty applications no longer award points for intercalation, research is still beneficial. Original or primary research is particularly lauded, and intercalation provides the suitable time to conduct it.
My final project and other elements of the curriculum also allowed me to develop my lab skills, something that is only briefly touched on in medical school and was further affected by the pandemic.
Finally, as my MB ChB degree would mean I was based in one city for five years, I wanted to expand my horizons at another institution and location.
What I didn't want
In my eyes, a benefit of intercalation is experiencing university in a similar way to non-medicine students. This includes finishing the course within eight to nine months; I wanted to avoid doing a 12-month course (for example, a masters) as I would only get a couple of weeks of summer.
Instead, I was able to travel and enjoy free time for close to three months before coming back to medicine. Student finance also doesn't always provide funding for postgraduate qualifications.
What I did during intercalation
My degree did not consist of memorising immunological processes and the mechanisms of infectious disease, but rather understanding these topics to apply in a practical way. In fact, I didn't have any exams during my intercalation, instead doing in-course assessments (for example, writing a commentary article).
The first term consisted predominantly of small-group teaching focussing on a range of immunity and infection topics, from vaccines to long COVID. It developed my skills in reading papers, critically analysing them, and presenting on topics relevant to my course.
The second term consisted of a patient-focussed paper and a group literature review. The patient I encountered presented with brucellosis, a very rare diagnosis to see in the UK, with ~10 cases presenting every 10 years. The group literature review focussed on germinal centres and mimicked the real-life publication process, including peer review.
The third term included my final project, based in a lab, and producing a research paper and presentation on my topic entitled 'Understanding and exploiting the Group A streptococcal anti-chemotactic protease SpyCEP to counter flesh-eating disease'.
What did I achieve?
I graduated this October with first-class honours from ICL, which is something I am immensely proud of, but I also gained a lot of other transferrable skills during the year. For example, reading and understanding complex research, presenting to large groups, and writing up primary data.
Additionally, ICL's immunology department produces world-renowned research and the scientists behind it lecture on the intercalated course. The year allowed me to meet and be taught by scientists at the forefront of their respective fields, which was a huge honour.
As previously mentioned, I can apply my project to my desired field and my independence and skills in the lab grew considerably. Due to the reduction in contact hours (in comparison to medicine), I was also able to partake in several extra-curriculars, allowing me to perform in multiple shows and be part of the Plastic Surgery Society.
For me, intercalation was absolutely the correct choice. I had a wonderful year and gained new experiences and friendships. I have seen some people intercalate as a means of having 'a year off', but I think the year is more enjoyable and fruitful if you study something you have an interest in.
Finally, the transition back to medicine can be daunting, but overall, it's been a smooth process. There may, of course, be skills you have forgotten or details you need to go over, but I wouldn't let that dissuade you from what can be an extraordinary year.
Planning to intercalate?
If you're thinking of doing an intercalation year, let us know so we can amend your records and extend your free student membership.
This page was correct at publication on 13/12/2023. Any guidance 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.