Free Online Courses for Medicine Applications 2021

A list of the most relevant and interesting online courses to boost your medicine application

March 2021
Latifa Haque (Co-Lead Editor)
KCL - 6th Year Medical Student

What are online courses?

These are also known as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and they are courses delivered online, open to all. They are usually quite short and structured courses, often delivered by university lecturers or experts in the field. They may be anywhere between a couple of hours to over 40 hours long, that you can do in a few days or over a few weeks. If they are self-paced, you get to decide how quickly or slowly you want to complete the course. The course will have a series of learning objectives that are covered each week. The content is covered in short video clips or mini lectures.

There are various platforms that you can find these MOOCs, the most common ones being Coursera or Futurelearn.

Why are online courses good for my medicine application?

This year, we know it's really difficult to secure work experience related to medicine. But there are plenty of other ways you can make your medicine application stand out, and online courses are a great way to do this from the comfort of your own home.

By doing an online course, you are showing the admissions team that:

Online courses are not necessarily a substitute for in-person work experience, but it's definitely an alternative way to strengthen your application as it's something you'll be able to discuss and reflect on in your personal statement and interview.

What online courses can I do to boost my medicine application? 

Here are a list of some FREE courses available to you that are relevant to healthcare and medicine. We've split them into different subsections and highlighted some of the most relevant topics they cover, but have a look on the websites to find out more information. You want to choose a course that is interesting to you, but not so intense that you'll have trouble balancing it with your other studies.

NOTE: all courses are completely free, but some may charge if you want to complete assignments for the course and get a certificate of completion. You do not need to pay for the certification as this will make no difference to your medicine application.

Courses on the social and cultural aspects of medicine

Bridging healthcare and society

https://www.coursera.org/learn/healthcare-and-society

Timing: self-paced, approx 21 hours

Developed by: Tomsk State University, Russia

This course will explore how healthcare can be inaccessible or inefficient for different members of society. It will try to answer the question, "How can healthcare provision and society be bridged?"

Some of the learning objectives most relevant for you include:

Relevance to medicine: this course will be useful in showing you understand how there are different barriers to accessing healthcare, and how this affects the health of different population groups. Through this, you're able to demonstrate you are aware that medicine goes beyond treating patients, and requires a more holistic approach. You should think about how this will change the kind of doctor you want to be.

Causes of disease: understanding causes of human disease

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/human-disease-understanding-causes-of-disease

Timing: 8 hours, self-paced

Developed by: University of Leeds

This course will cover how the health of a population is measured and analysed, and the different factors that contribute to poor health.

Topics explored include:

Relevance to medicine: by undertaking this course, you will learn just how complex health is, and how related it is to our upbringing and lifestyles. You will be able to understand why certain populations may be more at risk compared to others. This will reinforce why we need a holistic approach to managing patients.

Ageing population

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/aging-populations

Timing: 12 hours, self paced

Developed by: Keio University, Japan

This course explores the concept of healthy ageing from a scientific and healthcare perspective. It identifies the impact of social engagement in elderly and ageing populations. It explores the policies that surround age-inclusivity and how the government and communities can support their ageing society.

Topics explored on the course include:

Week 1: What is a super-aged society?

Week 2: Healthy ageing and healthcare service

Week 3: Healthy ageing and social engagement

Week 4: How to promote an inclusive society

Relevance to medicine: this course will be useful in helping you understand the challenges that come with having an ageing population, and how we can ensure the elderly live meaningful lives. It will show you have a good understanding of the problems that the NHS will face as the UK develops more of an ageing population. It also allows you to showcase your empathy towards the elderly, and recognise the challenges individuals experience as they age.

Courses on the realities of healthcare

Developing clinical empathy: making a difference in patient care

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/clinical-empathy

Timing: 4 hours, self-paced

Developed by: St George's, University of London

About the course: "Showing an understanding of a patient’s situation is one of the most important relationship-building skills that a healthcare provider can have. This is widely recognised in healthcare: the NHS in the UK recruits for compassion as one of its core values, and medical schools look for this in applicants at admissions interviews. This course will help you develop an empathic practice that is individualised and attuned to the needs of all patients."

Topics explored on the course include:

Relevance to medicine: this course will explore why empathy is so important to healthcare professionals, and the benefits it brings to patients. It also explores the challenges that come with being empathetic. Medical students and healthcare professionals need to be empathetic (and understand the boundaries of it) so this would be really useful in helping you understand why.

Your future job in medicine

https://www.my-mooc.com/en/mooc/healthcarejobs/

Timing: 27 hours, self-paced

Developed by: Northwestern University, Illinois

This course explores the personal stories, experiences and journeys of different healthcare professionals. It helps you map a path towards a health career and identifies skills needed to be successful in it.

Topics explored include:

Relevance to medicine: this course would be really good at answering “why medicine” as it would show why you’ve explored and ruled out other healthcare professions. It would also be really good to show that you understand the roles and values of different healthcare workers, and understand how everyone comes together as part of the multidisciplinary team. Some aspects may not be completely relevant to medicine applicants, but you can identify the parts that are most useful and try to do those weeks only.

Science-based courses

The Role of Vaccines in Preventing Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobial Resistance

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/the-role-of-vaccines-in-preventing-infectious-diseases-and-amr

Timing: 4 hours, self-paced

Developed by: British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

About this course: "On this course, you will investigate the role of vaccines in preventing these diseases and explore case studies that demonstrate successful strategies. You will also appreciate the factors influencing the availability and uptake of vaccines and understand the important role they play in managing infectious diseases."

Topics explored include:

Relevance to medicine: this course is extremely relevant to Covid-19 and you definitely may be asked questions during your interview around vaccinations and antimicrobial resistance. You can use what you've learnt about running a successful vaccine campaign to reflect on the way the UK government has approached the Covid-19 vaccine campaign, thinking about both the positives and negatives.

Courses on innovation in healthcare

Application of digital health interventions

https://www.my-mooc.com/en/mooc/application-of-digital-health-interventions/

Timing: 8 hours, self-paced

Developed by: Taipei Medical University, Taiwan

This course will explore issues like why digital health is important and how digital health can affect our future. It will look at how digital apps can help patients change behaviour, cognition, or alleviate their pain, with a particular focus on mental health conditions.

Topics explored include:

Relevance to medicine: many aspects of healthcare are slowly but certainly going digital, and as an applicant, it is important for you to recognise this trend. This course will allow you to learn more about the impact of digital health on individuals and on healthcare as a whole, and the advantages and disadvantages it brings. By completing this course, you will show medical schools that you are clued up about how healthcare is evolving, and you can form your own opinions on whether it's good or bad.

Healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship

https://www.mooc-list.com/course/healthcare-innovation-and-entrepreneurship-coursera

Timing: 12 hours, self-paced

Developed by: Duke University, North Carolina

About the course: "This interdisciplinary course focuses on sustainable innovation, introducing entrepreneurial students to the realities of problem identification and solution design within the complex world of healthcare."

Topics explored include:

Week 1 - Innovating in Healthcare

Week 2 - Finding What's Needed

Week 3 - Prioritising Needs

Relevance to medicine: this course will most likely be more technical, so I would suggest only doing it if you're particularly interested in healthcare innovation or you have an entrepreneurial mind. The most relevant lessons you will learn for your application will be about how to identify and prioritise problems in healthcare, and how to come up with a design to solve that problem. By completing a course like this, you'll show that you're not only interested in improving the health of patients, but you want to improve healthcare as a whole. This is something we call Quality Improvement and is very important in healthcare, as it's the process of checking that systems are running efficiently and looking for ways to improve it.

Do I need to pay for a certificate if I do an online course?

In short, for your medicine application, you don't need to bother paying for a certificate for your online course. In general, the main reason people get certificates is to a) prove that they've completed the course and b) some certifications offer credits which some employers value. When you're applying for university, these credits don't make a difference to your application. The key thing is that you've benefited from the course. Ideally, you should be more knowledgable about the topic, and this is the only proof you need. If you get asked about the course in an interview, you need to know what you're talking about. So no, don't be put off if there's a charge for the certificate at the end. Just complete the course, make notes throughout and reflect on what you've learnt. That will be more than enough.

How do I choose what course to do? 

You don't have to do online courses to support your medicine application, they are just one way you can show the admissions team you are keen to learn more about healthcare. If you're keen to do an online course, that's great. Be selective about the one you want to do. Here are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before choosing:

  1. Am I interested in this topic? 
  2. How long is it? Am I able to commit this much time to the course?
  3. Is it relevant for medicine? 
  4. Is there an easier way for me to learn this same content instead - e.g. youtube videos?

Whether it's a short course or a course that takes a few weeks, it's still taking up your time. And your time is valuable. So choose wisely.

We've tried to make it easy by compiling a list of ones we think are most relevant to medicine and healthcare, but this is not an exhaustive list. There are lots of other courses available - some that are more about particular diseases and others that are more about humanities and healthcare. These can all be valuable to your application, so if you don't like the ones from this list, have a look for something else!

If you want to do more than one course, that's fine too but don't do it for the sake of your application as it won't add that much more value. Simply do it because you're interested in the topic and want to learn more about it.

What is the best way to learn from an online course?

You can learn from an online course the same way you learn from lessons at school. Take clear notes, use diagrams (or take screenshots of the presentations), write summaries of the key points, and consolidate your understanding by searching anything you're not sure of. Some courses offer materials that you can use to aid your learning. The only thing I would add here is that it is very important that you reflect on what you've learnt and why it is relevant to you as a medicine applicant and a future healthcare professional.

How do you reflect on what you've learnt?

You need to show the admissions team that the online course has actually added value to your life and your decision to study medicine.

Some key questions to ask yourself may include:

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