Biomedical Science is often overlooked as being the “Medicine safety” programme in the U.K. Since students are advised to only use four of their five programme choices for Medicine, many Medicine hopefuls will apply for Biomedical Science as their fifth slot. But many students, whether they’re interested in Biology or Medicine, overlook the unique opportunities that this field can bring.
Biomedical Science occupies a central position between the two fields of Biology and Medicine, serving as a unique hybrid between an academic degree in Biology and a professional degree in Medicine. With the rapid advances being made in the development of integrated care and allied health within all modern medical systems including the NHS1 “What Are Integrated Care Systems?” NHS England, www.england.nhs.uk/integratedcare/what-is-integrated-care. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021. , modern healthcare involves much more than just the nurses, doctors, and pharmacists we see providing primary care – there is a wide range of researchers and specialists working behind every breakthrough and diagnosis. This is where Biomedical Science comes in, with its combination of academic research and a focus on human health.
Biomedical Science is not “Medicine Light”!
With how common it is for Medicine students to take Biomedical Science as their safety option, some students mistakenly believe that it’s where people who fail to get into a medical programme end up – but this is a big misunderstanding of what the degree entails. The most important difference is that Medicine is a professional degree, with a heavy emphasis on practical skills training, as shown in the table below:
2 Imperial College London. “BSc Medical Biosciences.” Programme Specification (Undergraduate), www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/study/programme-specifications/school-of-medicine/2021/ProgSpec-B101-Medical_Biosciences-2020-21.pdf. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021. 3Imperial College London. “Programme Specification 2020 – 21.” Medicine, www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/study/programme-specifications/school-of-medicine/2021/ProgSpec-A100-MBBS_BSc-Medicine-2020-21.pdf. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.
Note: Percentage values are representative of a typical course selection, but may change depending on modules chosen.
As we can see from the table, there is a fundamental difference in the teaching structure of the two programmes – highlighting the difference in nature of a professional degree such as Medicine. On the other hand, the Biomedical Science program is at its heart a research-focused academic degree programme. While the topics taught within lectures may be similar across both programmes, Biomedical Science students would be better equipped with research skills, scientific knowledge on biological systems, and how to make use of that knowledge to further biomedical goals. But there is also a stark difference in the practical clinical assessments that students will find in a Medicine programme.
If you’re a student interested in both pathways, it would be a good time to ask yourself a few questions:
1) Are you considering for a programme focused on practical clinical assessments, or something more focused on academics?
2) If you’re interested in Medicine, do you have activities that can show your aptitude for clinical work?
3) If you’re interested in Biomedical Science, do you enjoy exploring new frontiers of knowledge, i.e. have you considered a career in research?
These questions can help you pin down whether the Biomedical Science pathway is the right one for you.
Biomedical Science can be extremely competitive
Let’s take a look at the IB Diploma entry requirements for both of these programmes:
Medicine MBBS @ Imperial: 38 points, with 6 in HL Biology and HL Chemistry4Imperial College London. “MBBS/BSc Medicine | Study | Imperial College London.” Entry Requirements, www.imperial.ac.uk/study/ug/courses/school-of-medicine/medicine/#entry-requirements. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.
Note: Typical offer is at 39 points, with 7 and 6 in Biology and Chemsitry
Medical Biosciences @ Imperial: 38 points, with 6 in HL Biology and HL Chemistry5Imperial College London. “BSc Medical Biosciences | Study | Imperial College London.” Entry Requirements, www.imperial.ac.uk/study/ug/courses/biomedical-science/medical-biosciences/#entry-requirements. Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.
As you can see, the entry requirements are practically the same! When you add in the fact that many of the first-year courses both Biomedical Science students and Medicine students will take are the same, and the fact that many Biomedical Science students consider entering into Medicine, the competition within Biomedical Science programs can be extremely intense.
Options within the degree
Biomedical Science is also one of the more flexible degrees, with many possible career paths and specializations available. Typically, students can choose specialization tracks within Genetics, Physiology, Pharmacology, Public Health, and others. This allows you to spend the first year exploring your options, before narrowing their interest into specific areas of health science that matter the most to you. Many programmes are also designed to allow students to transfer easily into other related programmes under the umbrella of Biology, making it a good starting point for a variety of careers.
Preparing for Biomedical Science
So for those students who know that they are interested in Biomedical Science, what can you do to prepare? As the programme is often research-intensive, professors will want to see students who are well-read on changes in health technologies, such as PCR, bacterial transformation, or biostatistics. Having lab experience would also be great, whether that is being especially involved within your own school lab or an outside research experience. But since the course is also directly related to human health, prepare to know just as much about physiology as any medical student as well!
All in all, Biomedical Science is an excellent option for students who care about health, but also like the scientific process. It’s especially suitable for students interested in being involved in health research, discovering new pharmaceuticals or innovative technologies that can benefit human health. Don’t think of Biomedical Science as just a side option for Medicine – it is a vast field full of interesting possibilities!
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By Conrad Yu, Director of Development