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What are the Pros and Cons of Intercalating?
  • 22 Feb 2024
  • Medical School

In this blog, Leeds med student Lucy Hamer highlights the pros and cons of intercalating.

The choice of whether to intercalate or not is a decision that medics face in various degrees. Some medical schools offer the chance to intercalate to the majority of their students, however other medical schools only let the top academic performers take a year out of their studies to pursue an intercalation year.

If you’re not sure what intercalation is, it’s a unique opportunity for medical, dental and veterinary students to take a year out of their degree to gain experience in a field that they would not otherwise have the opportunity to find out about. This year can be taken after 2nd, 3rd or 4th year.

For medical students, this could be something completely different like parasitology, or something closer to home in much greater depth, like pharmacology. At the end of the year, most students will gain an undergraduate degree in their chosen topic (e.g. BSc) however some choose to undertake a Masters degree (e.g. MSc). There are many pros and cons to intercalation and it’s something to consider very carefully should the option present itself. Here, are some of the important things to take into account when considering whether to intercalate.



  • Intercalating in a topic gives you chance to explore an area in so much more depth than previously offered on your medical course. It’s a chance to spend time developing your interests and finding out about subjects that may have caught your eye. Like all degrees, intercalation courses are taught in different ways. Some are very lab-based research degrees, whereas some are taught in a more traditional, lecture-based format. This is something to consider when thinking about what course will suit you.

  • Some see intercalation as a chance to live like a "normal" student for a year. Typically, for an undergraduate intercalation the workload is similar to the final year of a typical three year BSc. This means there is no clinical placement and some find the workload to be considerably less, with more of an emphasis on self-directed learning. This gives many students a chance to dedicate time to extracurricular activities and gives some the much needed break they need in the middle of their degree.

  • The process of applying for Foundation Year 1 jobs is another topic entirely, however intercalation gives you "points" in this process. This can ultimately help you get your most desired junior doctor job. Some believe intercalation to be a big help in this process, whereas others think that the contribution is minimal. Either way, it is undisputed that it helps somewhat. The amount of points that your intercalation degree counts for depends on your overall grade in that year so it’s important to be aware of this before applying and put the effort in to get the best grade possible. It’s not advised to do an intercalation year just for the points as it’s a long time to study a topic just for the sake of it.

  • On the same note, intercalation can demonstrate increased knowledge, transferable skills and dedication to a speciality. This can help if you’re looking to enter a competitive speciality in your future career. However, it is very hard to predict what you will end up doing as a job when you are only halfway through your degree, so many people just choose a topic they find interesting at the time.

  • Many students choose to intercalate in a different city. This gives them the chance to meet new people, join new societies and have a complete change of scenery.


  • If you decide to intercalate you will be spending another year at university. This brings with it all the costs associated with studying for another year. This is a big consideration for some, especially as fees are so expensive now.

  • When you take a year out of your studies, you automatically drop back a year when you re-enter medical school. This means that you’ll be a year behind your medical friends that did not intercalate. This is definitely something to consider as many people don’t like the thought of "being left behind". However, some see it as an opportunity to make new friends.

  • Many people get restless towards the end of their medical degree. Five years is a long time to study, especially when the rest of your age group will have already graduated and will be working. Some would rather not prolong their degree with an intercalation year and prefer to start earning money and moving up the career ladder.

  • As a result of the strenuous workloads faced in a medical degree, taking a break from medicine can cause medical students to lose touch with their revision practices and knowledge of the subject. As a result, many med students try to intercalate before their 4th year so they can get back into a good routine and re-fresh their knowledge before finals. However, students should be aware they may need to put in extra work to ensure they’re up to scratch with their peers.

Although it is possible to weigh up the pros and cons, ultimately the decision of whether to intercalate or not is a very personal one. It is a good idea to ask the advice of previous intercalators, doctors and your trusted friends and family to help you reach a conclusion. Most importantly, if you do decide to intercalate make sure you do it in a topic that you really enjoy as you won’t lose interest and it’s much more likely to pay off!
  • 22 Feb 2024
  • Medical School