10th May 2024
Medical school can be a gruelling experience: most medical students will occasionally wonder if it’s really worth it. You might be finding your medical course challenging and wondering if you can drop out and reapply to a school closer to home, or to a course that better suits your interests. Dropping out of medical school isn’t an easy decision to make, so if you’re thinking about it, this guide will help you consider all the long-term implications of dropping out.

Understanding the Decision to Drop Out of Medical School

Deciding to drop out, then, is a serious decision with long-term consequences! People can have lots of different reasons for wanting to drop out of their medical degree, including: 

  • Deciding medicine isn’t for you: if you know for sure you don’t want to be a doctor any more, there’s not much point continuing with your degree (although finishing the degree doesn’t mean you have to be a doctor, either). It’s only medical courses that reject medical dropouts, so you’d be free to consider any other degree, healthcare profession, apprenticeship or job.
  • Personal circumstances: something challenging in your personal life, like a bereavement or caring responsibility, might mean you’re struggling to complete the degree. Before dropping out, though, you can always explore pausing your studies.
  • Academic challenges: you might have failed exams and be considering whether you’re able to continue with the degree. This is really difficult, and it’s worth talking to your tutors to explore why you’re struggling.

Ultimately, whatever your reason for considering dropping out, it’s important to evaluate your decision, discuss it with other people, and make sure you’ve thought about all your options.

Reapplying to Medical School After Dropping Out

The most crucial thing to understand is that once you drop out of medical school, that’s it. 

Virtually no UK medical schools will accept reapplications from students who have previously dropped out of a medical degree course – they see it as a pretty good guarantee that you wouldn’t succeed on their course. 

It’s important to understand that dropping out likely means the end of your British medical career. Of course, that may be exactly what you want if you’ve decided you don’t want to be a doctor! But that door will be closed for good.

It might still be possible to apply to medical schools abroad, but it’s worth carefully checking that they will accept people who have previously dropped out of a medical course. You should not be tempted to hide the fact that you’ve previously dropped out – that would be very dishonest and be fitness to practice concern if it was discovered. 

So You Want To Drop Out of Medical School: What’s Next?

If you’re thinking about dropping out, the first thing you should do is talk to somebody. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or academic tutor, a problem shared really is a problem halved. Deciding to drop out is a serious decision and one that might be linked to personal or academic challenges. Getting someone else’s advice is crucial to make sure that you’re not struggling by yourself or missing a less dramatic option.

You should also speak to your medical school, usually through your academic tutor. This is both because you’d need to speak to them to officially register that you want to drop out, and because they will be best placed to support you and explore your other options. 

For example, if you’re struggling with your health or personal circumstances, you may be able to access support through the university. You can also look at pausing your studies (the process is usually called an interruption of studies), to give yourself some breathing space where you can still return to your medical degree afterwards.

You might also want to explore your options. You could look at intercalating so that you have a second degree to use to apply to jobs or to see if you enjoy academic work more than clinical practice. 

If you’re early on in your medical school journey, you might consider whether you want to stick it out until your clinical years to see if you enjoy the practical elements of the job.

 If you want to drop out to pursue a different course of study, you can start applying for different degree courses. It is often wise to avoid dropping out until you have something else lined up – you can pause your studies if you just need a break. 

Academic Concerns

If you’re considering dropping out because of academic concerns, like failing courses, here are some tips on how to manage academic failure:

  • Take a moment to breathe! Failing at medical school can be disheartening, but it’s actually very common. Some medical schools have early years exam failure rates of 60-80%, so this doesn’t in itself mean that you’re not suited to be a doctor.
  • Reach out to peers: older years students who’ve resat exams are often the best resource for tips on how to pass the exam the second time around. And knowing that your friends are in the same boat can provide a lot of moral support.
  • Reach out to your academic tutor: let them know you’ve failed and that you’re worried about continuing on the course. They will be best placed to support you and help you succeed.
  • Work smarter, not harder: reflect on why you’ve failed, like your study techniques, and address the problem, rather than just working harder.

Exploring Alternative Paths in Healthcare

You might want to drop out because you’ve realised you just don’t ever want to work in healthcare, and that’s valid. It’s a tough field! However, if you’d still like to work in healthcare, it’s just that medicine isn’t working for you, you might want to check out other careers:

  • Nursing: training as a nurse means you’ll start work sooner and be involved in patient care more directly. You’ll also be able to work in a more specialised area sooner, and advanced practitioner roles offer a lot of scope to expand your career.
  • Clinical science: if you don’t enjoy patient contact, but still want to be part of the patient journey, clinical science is a great role. You’ll be working in a laboratory to help patients get the test results they need. 
  • Paramedic: paramedics are the first on the scene and provide crucial pre-hospital care to keep patients alive. If medicine isn’t exciting enough, training as a paramedic is more hands-on.

Of course, there are plenty more allied health careers – there may well be something out there if medicine isn’t working for you. 


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