Studying in Europe is a useful alternative for students who may not get an offer to read medicine in the UK or miss out on results day. It’s important to remember that applying to a European/International medical school is just one method to enter medicine if you are unsuccessful the first time. There is also the choice of a gap year or studying an alternative course and applying for graduate medicine. Each avenue has their own merits. Although, studying in the UK may be more convenient and financially achievable, a medical degree from a European medical school is arguably just as valuable as one from the UK and therefore studying abroad is becoming an increasingly popular option.
We should preface this by stating that living abroad for 6 years is tough. Consider the costs, differences in culture, learning a new language and being far away from family/friends for 6 years. However, if you can accept these factors then studying in Europe is a great option. As is the case when applying to schools in the UK, it’s important to research all the European medical schools available and find out as much about them as possible before deciding which ones to apply to. This is especially important when applying abroad as there is no centralised UCAS system which makes applying to several places expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, it's worth narrowing your options down as much as possible.
Applications for medical schools in Europe open/close at different times and so do your research early to make sure you don’t miss out. The time that you begin your application is likely to occur at a point when you feel somewhat less confident about being accepted for medicine in the UK.
If you decide to apply in December/January after perhaps being rejected from Medicine before interview, then most European opportunities will be open for the upcoming academic year. However, if you decide in late March/April (post interview rejection) you will have fewer options. You will have even fewer options if you decide to apply post-results day. You can always opt to take a gap year and apply for a European medical school in the next application cycle to increase your chances again.
The application process can be tedious and complicated but once complete, you will then usually sit an entrance exam (occasionally an interview too) upon the result of which a decision of acceptance will be made. Note that applying in August means a short time period to revise for an entrance exam because of the quick turnaround.
The process of researching and making applications can be complex and quite daunting and therefore some students choose to approach agencies that can help. Agents are experienced with the system and will know a great deal about the application, entrance exams, legalities and the fees involved, which will make the process clear and smooth for aspiring applicants. However, be careful about agents who charge extortionate fees and look around for recommendations from other medical students that you may know (friends and family) as well as any reviews available; most will offer free consultations so please make the most of these.
Most students will have a good chance of being accepted into a medical school in Europe. Requirements to be accepted depend on the individual medical school but they usually have similar subject requirements as schools in the UK (i.e. two science A-levels) but a lower minimum grade requirement - and sometimes even none at all! Most will require an entrance exam which might be sat in the UK or the country itself and sometimes an interview to follow.
The entrance exam is much more important than A-level grades and is individual for each university based around Biology/Chemistry A-level knowledge and UCAT style questions. This exam allows the individual medical school to rank local and international applicants together, upon which they can decide who to accept. As always, it is important to research examination dates of the respective medical schools you wish to apply to so you don’t miss them if you want to apply. There is some misinformation about there being separate quotas for EU and non-EU countries - this is incorrect and all students are on an equal footing.
However, remember that although the A-level requirements to enter medical school in Europe is lower, medicine no matter where it is studied is an intellectually challenging course (as challenging as one in the UK) and so it’s important that you are confident you will able to keep up with the academic workload before applying.
Those who narrowly miss out are placed on waiting lists if offer holders reject the opportunity to study there.
Yes, there are many European medical schools that teach in English. There are at least 85 medical schools in the EU that teach in English, mostly in Italy and Poland (18 and 16 respectively) but the most popular ones are in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania.
However, remember that although you will learn medicine in English, locals in the area may not speak English and neither might patients and so you will still need to learn some of the native language for placements. Placement/Clinical years tend to be later in the course, which does give you a few years to get a good grasp of the language before meeting patients and living in the native country makes it easier to pick up.
The cost or tuition fees to study medicine in Europe can vary depending on the medical school/country. Remember, all costs must be self-funded unlike the UK where you can attain help from Student Finance. The cheapest place tuition wise is at public universities in Italy which can cost up to €4,620 per year, closely followed by Romania and Bulgaria at €5000 and €8000 annually respectively.
Most other countries will charge similar/more than what tuition costs in the UK. However, you also need to consider living costs as well which is generally much less than the UK, and all things considered Romania probably works out the cheapest. As accommodation is generally cheaper than the UK, students often live in private housing near the campus rather than halls. There is a useful table that can be found here that summarises popular European medical schools, their annual fees and requirements for entry.
It usually takes around 6 years to study medicine in Europe, however it can be common for students to often graduate later than expected due to repeated years, study delays and attempted transfers to other medical schools. It’s also worth remembering that there is an increased chance of drop out when studying abroad.
The 6 years can sometimes include an internship year at the end which is the equivalent to an FY1 year and is recognised as such by the UK, therefore you can start as an FY2 if you choose to return to the UK (subject to change). If you are unfamiliar with training pathways in the UK and terms such as FY1, check out a blog we wrote here.
As of this moment, British graduates from Europe (what is known as the European Economic area) are able to register into the GMC and work (as long as the medical school is on the World directory of Medical Schools – check here). Unlike studying outside of Europe, having a medical degree from the European Economic Area means that you can practice as a doctor in the UK without needing to pass an additional examination currently (set to change as discussed below).
You will probably need to complete an ‘internship’ year (equivalent of an FY1 in the UK) at the European country you have studied in (which may be integrated into the medical degree as mentioned earlier) in order to register for the GMC. You will then most likely apply for standalone FY2 posts in the UK but there are a few FY1 posts available too for those who haven’t done an internship year.
Of course, after studying in a particular country you may be more inclined to stay and work in said country or even go to other nations around the world, both of which are feasible as the degree is widely recognised.
Brexit is unlikely to affect the application process to enter European Medical schools but the timing of Brexit will now align with the introduction of a new final medical exam called the UKMLA. Most students will want to come back to the UK to work in the NHS and after 2024 the GMC has decided to standardise all medical graduates in the UK and abroad by making them all (no matter where they have studied) sit the UKMLA exam to work as an NHS doctor.
As a result of this, there is yet to be a clear-cut answer as to whether those who have completed an internship year will be able to start as an FY2 or not as has been the case up to now, but either way, all graduates will now have to sit an exam to work for the NHS.
In Europe, there is a split of countries that allow accelerated medicine pathways and those that don’t. Countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia do not have accelerated pathways and require all students to study the 6-year course. However, countries like Ukraine and Poland have graduate entry medicine programmes which can reduce the course into 4 years as it is in the UK.
If you are passionate about doing medicine, are unable to get a place in the UK, and have the means to self-fund a degree then studying medicine in Europe is a good, viable option with a simple route back to the UK for work. It’s really important you do your research about the application process for the medical schools you want to apply to and have a long think about whether you want to study in that city for 6 years (think about the course, area, costs, distance from home etc).
As mentioned earlier, most students will use an agent to help them with the process and so after doing some research consider a consultation with an agency to understand your options and what to do next.
Guidance for applying to medical schools in Armenia, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, Romania andUkraine here
Guidance for applying to medical schools in Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Latvia,Hungary, Croatia, Malta and Belarus here
Author: Dhillon Hirani
Editor: Latifa Haque