The time will come during your medical training when you will have to think about intercalation. This is a year out of medical school to study something different (usually after your third or fourth year depending on your medical school). You may be thinking: why would anyone choose to extend an already long and gruelling medical course by an extra year? There’s a lot to consider…
Intercalation is not for everyone
First and foremost, intercalation is not for everyone. It doesn’t matter how much your tutors may promote it, or how many of your friends have chosen to do it, it may still not be the right choice for you. Whether this is because of financial reasons (having said that, if your reasons are purely financial then do speak to your medical school as there are plenty of scholarships and other options available) or simply because you cannot find a course you are particularly interested in, do not feel pressured into it. There have been students who have regretted their decision to intercalate, ended up spending a year feeling quite miserable or even failing it altogether! In short, if you don’t genuinely like it, DON’T DO IT!
Know what you want
It is important to know what you want to achieve by intercalating. You may want to develop certain skills such as laboratory skills, or writing a research paper. Some courses may be helpful for a future specialty such as an anatomy course for surgical specialties or a medical education course for the academic foundation programme and a career in education. Intercalating gives you the chance to explore a different city (this will give you better insight when applying for your future job). It is also a good chance to get involved in research since time will be more limited once you graduate, or you may simply want to take a break from medicine altogether, chose to do a degree in philosophy, or develop your extracurricular activities!
The points system
When it comes to applying for your first job on the Foundation Programme, your overall application score is measured by your rank in your medical school, any previous degrees or publications and your score on the situational judgement test (see the NHS Foundation Programme page for more info on the application process). One very attractive aspect of intercalating is that it can give you some extra points, which could make the difference when applying for competitive posts. Whilst this is important to consider, do not let it be the only reason for intercalating as it can easily backfire. Think about timings – for example, for some intercalated courses, you may be graduating after you apply for the foundation programme. More importantly, it really isn’t worth wasting a whole year doing a course you are not enjoying, with all its added financial implications, and risk getting a low score that would not award you any points. Like I said before, if you are not interested in any course in particular, better not to intercalate.
Finally, once you’ve decided you are intercalating, try to make the most of it by networking with people and moving out of your comfort zones. Don’t just stick with other medics, especially if you are intercalating at the same university. Whilst it’s fun and easy to get along with people from similar backgrounds and feel comfortable with what’s familiar, you will not get much other opportunity to work with non-medics. From quite early on, our whole world seems to revolve around medicine, so take advantage of this opportunity, talk to as many people as you can – you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn from others.