Alternatives to a medicine degree

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If you’re thinking about studying medicine at university, it’s also worth considering these alternative degree options in specialised healthcare.

Taking a degree in medicine is an extremely popular option. If your heart is set on a career as a doctor then studying medicine is essential, either as an undergraduate degree or via the four-year graduate entry to medicine qualification. However, there are lots of other degree options available if you’re open to the idea of a healthcare career in an area related to medicine that doesn’t involve qualifying as a doctor.

The good news is that these degrees are typically less competitive than medicine and many universities ask for lower entry grades. Here’s our list of alternative healthcare degrees that you might not have considered yet.

Radiotherapy and oncology

Oncology is the study and practice of preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer. One method of treating cancer is radiotherapy, which involves the use of high-level radiation to either cure a patient or to control their symptoms. A degree in radiotherapy and oncology will typically train students in the key skills of planning and preparing cancer care, including the use of advanced technology and specialist machines to deliver radiation treatment. Degrees normally involve a significant amount of time spent on placement in facilities such as NHS hospitals or specialised cancer clinics, as well as in simulated clinics.

Degree length:

Three years

Qualification gained:

BSc

Entry criteria:

Most universities ask that you have one science or maths A level, Scottish Higher or equivalent, although some ask that you have two of these subjects.

Paramedic science

If you’re looking for a fast-paced work environment, you could consider a degree in paramedic science (sometimes known as paramedic practice). Paramedics are trained to attend to patients at the scenes of accidents and emergency; they must be able to keep a level head in stressful situations, work well under pressure and provide excellent medical care and advice, even while in the back of a moving ambulance. On most paramedic degrees you will normally spend around half of your time on placement. This will be in clinical practice areas such as NHS facilities, where you will be working under the supervision of qualified paramedics – and bear in mind that you could find yourself working weekends and night shifts even as a university student.

Degree length:

Three years

Qualification gained:

BSc

Entry criteria:

Entry requirements differ between universities; some don’t ask for any specific qualifications, while others request that applicants have a science A level, Scottish Higher or equivalent.

Midwifery

A degree in midwifery prepares students for a career in supporting pregnant women before, during and after they’ve given birth, as well as caring for their babies. As the primary carers for women at all stages of pregnancy, the duties of a midwife typically include providing nutritional advice, completing health checks on pregnant women and their babies, and delivering the child in cases of uncomplicated pregnancy (if the labour threatens to become complicated, an obstetrician will typically deliver the baby, for example through the use of a C-section). The majority of courses combine theoretical study and practical experience, with chances to gain hands-on experience in healthcare settings and in simulated delivery rooms. Both men and women are welcome to become midwives.

Degree length:

Three years

Qualification gained:

Depending on which university you attend, you could graduate with a BSc, BMid or BA

Entry criteria:

The entry criteria varies depending on the university. Some providers won’t request any specific A levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent, while some ask that you have taken a science or social science.

Optometry

Optometrists are healthcare professionals who specialise in the examination, diagnosis and treatment of the human visual system. As an optometrist your duties will typically include prescribing and fitting glasses, contact lenses and other aids, as well as treating a range of common eye conditions such as glaucoma. Degrees normally combine academic studies with clinical and practical opportunities, with many courses offering the chance to work with real patients and in high-tech simulation facilities.

To work as an optometrist you’ll need to register with the General Optical Council, which requires working for a year as a pre-registration optometrist after your BSc. Check course details carefully though, because some universities offer four-year masters degrees which incorporate this pre-registration year within the course.

Degree length:

Three to four years

Qualification gained:

Depending on length and content, courses will either grant you a BSc, BOpto or MOptom

Entry criteria:

Universities will typically ask that applicants have two science A levels, Scottish Highers or equivalent from the following subjects: chemistry, biology, physics and maths.

Podiatry

Podiatrists are responsible for diagnosing and treating conditions of the feet and lower limbs. As a podiatrist, you can expect to treat a range of medical problems which have a direct effect on foot health, including diabetes, arthritis, sporting injuries, and heart and blood disorders. A degree in podiatry will prepare you to face these challenges through a combination of academic study and on-site clinical practice. You could also find yourself learning a number of surgical techniques, as well as how to correct gait and posture through the use of physical therapies or orthoses (devices such as insoles and supports). Most degrees offer the chance to specialise in specific areas, for example in paediatric podiatry.

Degree length:

Three years

Qualification gained:

BSc

Entry criteria:

The majority of universities ask that applicants have one A level, Scottish Higher or equivalent in a science. Most universities specify that this science should be biology, but one or two universities are more lenient and will accept any science or social science. A few have no specific subject requirements.

Audiology

Audiology degrees examine the science behind how humans hear and maintain their balance. You will learn to assess, diagnose and treat a number of health problems, typically including hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. Audiology is a varied discipline, combining elements of biological sciences, psychology, electronics, engineering and speech and social science. Courses often include theoretical, practical and clinical study, with opportunities to work in NHS and private sector clinics normally available throughout your degree.

Degree length:

Three years

Qualification gained:

BSc

Entry criteria:

Universities typically ask that applicants have one A level, Scottish Higher or equivalent in a science subject. Biology, chemistry and physics are always counted as science subjects, maths is often accepted and in one or two cases, psychology is also acceptable.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists assess, advise and treat patients who are suffering from physical illness or injury. They treat a variety of conditions including spinal and joint problems, muscle strains and respiratory difficulties, as well as helping patients recover from operations, accidents and chronic conditions such as strokes. It’s a profession that requires patience, compassion and excellent interpersonal skills, and as a physiotherapist you’ll often become close to your patients over the course of their journey. In order to receive a licence to practice, physiotherapy students typically have to complete 1,000 hours of clinical practice – this means that accredited degree courses are normally full of hands-on experience in a range of locations, for example sporting facilities or NHS clinics.

Degree length:

Three years

Qualification gained:

BSc

Entry criteria:

Entry requirements vary depending on the university. The majority specify that applicants have at least one A level, Scottish Higher or equivalent in PE or in a science subject – but some will only accept biology as that science subject. The rest are more lenient and will also accept chemistry and physics, and in some cases psychology, sociology and maths.

Pharmacology

Pharmacology is the study of drugs and the effects they produce upon the human body. These drugs could be medicines, food additives, agricultural compounds such as insecticides, natural hormones, and even animal toxins and venoms. On your degree you will typically study the effects that these drugs have on tissues, cells and molecules within the body, including the potential toxic effects of medicines used in the treatment of disease. Courses will often examine both the actions of current drugs and the development of new drugs.

While there will be plenty of practical laboratory work on a pharmacology degree, there are fewer opportunities for clinical work experience than on the majority of healthcare degrees. However, many universities offer the option to take a placement year, so if industry experience appeals to you, be on the look-out for sandwich courses.

Degree length:

Three to five years

Qualification gained:

Depending on the length of your course and its content, you could graduate with a BSc, MSci or MPharm

Entry criteria:

The majority of universities ask that applicants have one A level, Scottish Higher or equivalent in chemistry or biology. A small number of universities will accept maths and physics in place of chemistry or biology. Some universities may ask for two science qualifications rather than one.

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