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By Shayda Karimi

​When I tell people I’m a medical student, the more travel minded of them often say, “That’s great! You can be a doctor anywhere in the world!”  A doctor is a doctor not matter where they are in the world I suppose is what they’re getting at.  How they come to be a doctor however is very different.

Currently, I’m entering my fifth and final year of medical school in the UK.  I’m 22, which means I will officially become a Doctor at age 23. My friend who is the same age as me, but instead studied in America hasn’t even begun medical school yet. She won’t qualify as a Doctor until she’s at least 27.

This difference stems from a radically different education system. In the UK, a child starts school in the September before they turn 5. At age 11, they begin secondary school (equivalent to high school). At age 16 they take GCSE exams in Maths, Science and English and a number of other subjects they have selected. After these exams students can choose to leave school and pursue vocational training, or they can continue and take A-levels at age 18. A typical student will take A-level exams in 3 to 4 subjects of their own choosing, based on the university course they wish to pursue (for medicine chemistry and usually biology is a requirement).

During the final year of school, students wishing to apply for medicine begin the application procedure. Some medschools, but not all, have an entrance exam. Most base their decision on A-level/ GCSE results and an interview. This means that British students ‘skip’ the four years of college that their American counterparts must complete before applying to medschool.

This has a number of advantages. Firstly, students arrive at their chosen career a lot faster. Secondly, it’s a lot cheaper, both because of the shorter course and because the British government gives out interest fee loans to cover tuition fees and living costs. Doing a 5 year, rather than a 4 year course also means that British medical students get an extra clinical year and the entire course becomes more relaxed (to prove this point, the European Time Directive means that UK doctors can work for a maximum of 48 hours per week, in the US, the maximum is almost double that at 80 hours per week)

Of course there are also disadvantages to the system. The lack of standardised testing across UK medschools means that there is no easy way of comparing students from different schools against eachother when it comes to applying for jobs (though this is soon to change.) It’s also arguable whether at 17 students are fully aware of what they want as their finally career. Over 60% of my year at the moment are female, ,and we’ve been told that this is because at 17 girls are more mature than boys and hence more likely to pass the interview! One could also argue of course that 23 year olds aren’t mature enough to be put in charge of people’s lives, though of course we hope we are!

Nevertheless, if I had the choice of thousands of dollars less debt, several years less school and no  expensive and exceedingly difficult entrance  exams…. I would pick the UK for medschool!

Shayda Karimi was raised in the UK, just outside of London, and currently in her last year of medical school at the University of Birmingham. She recently completed several months of study at UCLA.

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