Intercalated bsc (iBSC)
An iBSc is a golden opportunity, not only to bulk up your CV, but also to spend a year shadowing, researching and exploring a topic that you have a particular interest in. This page will help guide you on the path of choosing your iBSc.
by Anjana Lakshmi Narasimhan
Why do an iBSc?
An intercalated Bachelor of Science (iBSc) is essentially a year spent studying a chosen field and producing a report or dissertation at the end. This year is inserted between two years of the medical course (e.g. between the second and third year of the course) and the end goal is obtaining an additional degree or qualification, which would traditionally be a Bachelor of Science.
Your iBSc could be spent researching in a lab or shadowing doctors in clinics, learning to code or attending seminars with students from another course. These experiences are incredibly valuable for several reasons. Firstly, they can help you to narrow down the specialties you may be interested in for the future. Not only can they provide you with direction in terms of career, but they also can help you make valuable connections within your field of interest that may help you further along your career path. It’s also a chance to try something completely new. For example, spending a year studying Psychology or Anthropology will give you the opportunity to meet different students and professors who will give you exposure to a subject that you may not otherwise. Another reason that people choose to do an iBSc is that it looks great on your CV. For example, you can gain up to four additional educational performance measure (EPM) points for a 2.1 iBSc degree on your foundation year applications. You will also perform research during this year that may end up getting published.
With that said, it’s really important that if you do an iBSc, you do it on a topic that you enjoy and not one solely because you think it will look prestigious on an application. Doing an iBSc in a field you’re passionate about will show through and this is what will impress future employers the most.
Where to do your ibsc
There are three types of medical schools:
1. Medical schools that make iBScs compulsory
Of all the medical schools in the UK, 7 have iBScs as a compulsory part of their curriculum. These universities are listed as follows (last update: September 2020):
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University of Edinburgh
Imperial College London
Lincoln Medical School
University College London
University of Nottingham
University of St Andrews
2. Medical schools that only make iBScs available to students who meet specific entry criteria
3. Medical schools that either do not offer this opportunity or offer it based on demand
(e.g. Anglia Ruskin University)
Whilst some universities offer an extensive list of iBScs (e.g. University of Bristol, Brighton & Sussex Medical School), others offer fewer, but more established iBScs, such as iBSc Population Health and iBSc Clinical Sciences (e.g. University of Leicester, University of Birmingham). While most students choose to intercalate at their current medical school, some universities (e.g. University College London, Imperial College London) allow students to intercalate at a different university. If you want to consider doing an iBSc at another institution, it’s important to contact your administrator. This is because external candidates often face different deadlines to internal candidates, and if you do not inform your university, they may reserve the right not to admit you onto their iBSc programme.
Pros & Cons of doing an ibsc
It is an opportunity to get research experience. This will not only prepare you for further research during your latter years of university, but also during your career.
Closer working relationships with your researchers and lecturers.
Research has shown that intercalating may produce more well-rounded doctors who are more comfortable with research.
It will look great on your CV and will add valuable points onto your foundation programme application.
It’s a year-long break from Medicine before the final years of medical school.
It will take one year longer to graduate; this may be an unwanted delay for medical students who want to qualify sooner than later.
It’s an extra year that you have to pay for with the added hassle of having to apply for funding.
There will be other opportunities to carry out research and you shouldn’t feel forced to do one when you would rather continue your medical degree.
There are other ways of adding points to your application, including getting involved in research, that you can do alongside studying without spending a year doing it exclusively.
Some iBScs may prove to be more stressful than medical school itself, especially if you don’t end up enjoying the iBSc you choose.
Choosing your iBSc
The most important part of choosing your iBSc is to think about what you want to do. All iBScs require hard work, so it’s important that you have a genuine interest in the course you apply for. It’s important to read up on the course that you want to apply for. Some ways of doing this are:
1. Reading a book about the subject
This is a great thing to do particularly with subjects such as Psychology and the History of Medicine because there are many good books out there that you can use to gauge your interest in the topic.
2. Doing some volunteering
This is especially applicable for iBScs relating to specific specialties like Paediatrics or Primary Care. Examples would be volunteering at a children’s hospital or a care home.
3. Making sure you understand what will be required of you in this iBSc
Some iBScs are lecture-heavy, while others are more hands-on. Some may have a heavy emphasis on essay writing, while others may assess their students using group presentations or exams. Whatever it is, make sure you understand exactly what is expected of you in this course, so you won’t be caught off guard once you begin the year. Email the programme leads about any specific questions you have or ask previous students about their experiences.
Although iBScs tend to be based around medical or surgical specialities such as cardiology or neuroscience, some universities offer the opportunity to study an interest completely different to what may otherwise be covered by the medical curriculum. Here are some examples of unusual iBScs that universities offer along with the universities that offer them:
The iBSc you choose is what you will be doing for a whole year, and bearing in mind that you’re likely to do better in something that you enjoy, the stakes are high for picking wisely. Therefore it’s really important that you do your research when choosing where and what to apply for. Make sure that you speak to many different people including students and lecturers when making your decision. It’s also essential to browse the information that you are provided with as thoroughly as you can. Many universities provide iBSc booklets or prospectuses for students and so this can be useful in helping to make the decision.
https://www.intercalate.co.uk/ is a website that provides the details of every iBSc in the United Kingdom, so it’s well worth having a detailed scan through and seeing what may appeal to you.
https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and-support/studying-medicine/becoming-a-doctor/intercalated-degrees contains some advice written by the British Medical Association and goes into depth about the advantages and disadvantages of doing an iBSc.
At the end of the day, your iBSc year is what you make of it. The work that you put in, whether it’s in research, reflective essays or observing surgeries will be what comes out in the form of a stellar dissertation or project report that will make you stand out in your job applications. Most importantly, it will equip you for the remainder of your degree and for life as a doctor!
About the Author
Anjana Lakshmi Narasimhan is a third year medical student studying at University College London. Having applied to and obtained a place on the Women’s Health Intercalated Degree at UCL, she also spends her time at university writing articles and volunteering with several societies.