The Basics

There are many different routes into medicine. The reason for this is to widen the scope of those who can apply (as all types of doctors are needed in today’s NHS).

The purpose of this article is to show your options for applying to medicine. All of these routes are equally valid and at the end of the process, you will have a medical degree. Once you obtain this (and by virtue of entry on a medical course), it is an even playing field.

Below is a list of the main routes into medicine within the UK.

Direct undergraduate access

This is where you enter a medical degree directly after leaving school and is the most common way for people to access medical school. Around 60% of students that start undergraduate medical courses come through this route.

Direct undergraduate access with a gap year

This is where students take one (or more) years between finishing school and beginning a medical degree. Around 20% of students enter medicine after taking at least one gap year. The reasons for this may be a student has been unsuccessful in obtaining an offer in their first application or they choose to take a gap year to develop themselves. To find out more about gap years, please see our future article.

You can also choose to defer a year. This is where you apply as if you are entering next year but you choose to enter the course a year later. This means that on your gap year you don’t have to apply. About 5% of students choose to defer their entry by one or more years.

Foundation courses

Foundation courses are where things become a little more confusing. The point of a foundation course is to give a foundation in sciences which means that you have the required knowledge to enter a medical degree.

There are two main types of foundation courses:

  • -Those with a direct attachment to a medical degree (i.e. forming a 6-year degree)

  • -Standalone foundation courses (i.e. forming a 1-year course then a 5-year medical degree).

In standalone foundation years, students have to reapply between the foundation course and the medical degree. Only a limited number of medical schools also accept foundation courses. In an attached course, the foundation year and the medical degree are integrated together so there is no need to reapply.

The foundation courses take students on one (or both) of the following conditions:

  • -Students don’t have appropriate science A levels to enter medicine but have shown good academic attainment

  • -Students are from a widening participation background

For more information on foundation courses, please see our future article.

Transfer Courses

Similar to foundation routes into medicine, there are a number of different types of transfer courses.

On several different medical science courses (e.g. biomedical science, pharmacology), for the top-performing students, there is the option to transfer into the first year of a medical degree.

These transfers typically occur at:

  • -The end of the first year of the medical science degree (i.e. you complete 1 year of biomedical science then transfer into the medical degree). This route is often extremely competitive (i.e. students who wish to transfer have to commonly be in the top 10% of their cohort, are expected to sit admissions tests, and are expected to undertake an interview).

  • -The end of the 3-year degree. Once you have completed the degree, you may be guaranteed an interview, either on an undergraduate course or on the 4 year, postgraduate medicine course. This entry is still competitive.

Some applicants choose medical science degrees as backups for medicine if they aren’t successful. While transferring into medicine from a course is medical science completely valid, it is also very competitive, even compared to other routes into medicine. For that reason, you should think carefully about the reason why you’re applying to a specific medical science course and consider being committed to completing that course for the full 3-4 years.

Choice of route into medicine
What route into medicine fits you the best? Why? What’s the next-best option?

Postgraduate access (4year accelerated course)

For this route into medicine, you typically need at least a 2:1 Hons degree (upper second class). Some universities also stipulate:

  • -A science (BSc) degree is required

  • -Sufficient work experience or registration as an allied healthcare professional or other registered healthcare professional

  • -Have sat the UCAT and/or GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test). Typically, you must score highly in order to gain admission.

There are some medical schools that only run this type of course. These are Swansea and Warwick.

Other medical schools that offer these courses typically compress years 1 and 2 into the accelerated first year. This means the first year of the accelerated degree can be intense. This route into medicine is also fairly competitive but often does not consider GCSEs and A levels or use them to a much lesser extent than undergraduate courses.

Of UK medical graduates, those that have completed an accelerated course make up around 8% of the cohort.

Postgraduate – undergraduate access (onto a 5 year degree)

These are for students that have a degree and choose to enter the 5-year undergraduate curriculum. Again, students typically require a 2:1 degree class and universities may still require:

  • -A medical science degree

  • -Sufficient A-level grades to enter

Graduate entry students are also required to sit the relevant admissions tests (UCAT or BMAT but not usually the GAMSAT for undergraduate courses) and interview alongside undergraduate applicants. Some universities cap the number of graduate applicants who enter into an undergraduate course.

Around 10% of students on undergraduate medical courses are postgraduate students.


While there are many routes into medicine, there are also many people who wish to become doctors. Each person may have had different experiences, different qualifications, and different wishes for how they want their academic life to develop. You should know about the different options you have, so that when applying, you apply for courses that will give you the best chance of success, and also give you options for backups, should you not be successful. Most importantly though, you should apply to courses that you WANT to attend, and from this, you will be happier for trying.