Intercalation is where medical students take a year out of their medical degree to study another Bachelors or Masters degree that is still related to medicine. After intercalating, they will return to complete the remainder of their medical studies and eventually graduate with both the medical degree and the intercalated degree. Examples of intercalated degrees include Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Neuroscience, Immunobiology, Transplantation, Clinical Research, Public Health and Medical Education.
Intercalation is relatively common in the UK. Almost all UK medical schools offer intercalation opportunities to their students, some medical schools such as Cambridge and UCL even make intercalation compulsory. However, intercalation is generally unpopular in Asian countries including Malaysia. At NUMed, students can choose to intercalate after completing Year 2 or Year 4 of MBBS, but the intercalation has to be done at Newcastle University UK. In the 2014-2019 batch, not a single student did intercalation, while in the 2015-2020 batch, only 2 students intercalated.
When I was in Stage 2 of MBBS, I grew tired of medicine after I kept having to learn anatomy which I really hated. I wasn't looking forward to Stage 3, instead I thought of taking a break from medicine by doing intercalation. However, I was under the JPA scholarship and I wasn't sure if JPA would allow me to intercalate. My family and friends were also unsupportive of the idea of doing intercalation, as they thought it's a waste of time and money. Eventually, I chose not to intercalate. I don't regret that, as doing intercalation solely to take a break from medicine isn't a good idea. I regained interest in medicine after entering Stage 3.
Then, I once again thought of doing intercalation after completing Stage 4 of MBBS. I was quite enthusiastic in my studies at that time, and I felt that the additional knowledge and skills gained from doing intercalation would be very valuable. I also really liked the idea getting an additional degree just by studying an extra year. At that time, I had found out that JPA does allow its scholars to intercalate. The position of my family and friends on intercalation hadn't changed, but I wouldn't let that influence my decision. I was particularly interested in intercalating for a Master of Medical Education, though I was fine with doing other intercalated degrees as well.
However, there were two major issues. First, I was concerned about having to study at Newcastle University UK. The environment in UK is very different compared to that in Malaysia, so I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to adapt to it. Therefore, I didn't even do my Electives in UK. It was only after I went to UK for my SSC3 that I realised adapting to life in UK is much easier than I thought. Second, doing intercalation meant that I would have to separate with my friends in the 2014-2019 batch. I had been with them for so long and I valued them a lot, so I really wanted to complete Stage 5 with them.
I eventually decided not to do intercalation and I proceeded to Stage 5. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a terrible year, all because of a tragedy and the subsequent crisis which my group mates contributed to. I had valued my group mates so much, but they gave me such a bad experience in return. I ended up failing Stage 5 and having to repeat the year. In my repeat year of Stage 5, I made many new friends in the 2015-2020 batch who give me a great experience throughout the year. After passing the repeat year, I applied for the NUMed Teaching Fellow post and successfully got it. Throughout my teaching fellowship, I really enjoy teaching my students and I have a great relationship with my colleagues.
Looking back, I really should have done intercalation for a Master of Medical Education after Stage 4. By intercalating, I would have avoided the terrible year. After that, I would join the 2015-2020 batch in Stage 5. I would still get to meet those new friends and have a great experience with them. With the additional knowledge and skills I gained from intercalating, it's very likely that I would have passed Stage 5 in my first attempt. I would still graduate at the same time. The Master of Medical Education degree would then give me a huge advantage in my application for the NUMed Teaching Fellow post. I would still get to enjoy my teaching fellowship. Everything would have been perfect for me.
The 2016-2021 batch of students are really unfortunate in the sense that they missed out on the opportunity to do their SSC3 and Electives in UK because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, 4 students from that batch chose to do intercalation, and they are the only ones who get to study in UK. I am glad that they got rewarded for their decision.
Currently, medical graduates with an intercalated degree have an advantage when applying for the UK Foundation Programme. However, the UK General Medical Council has decided that it will no longer be the case starting from 2023. There are various reactions to this. Personally, I am neutral about this. On one hand, it's good to reward students for their efforts in doing intercalation, but on the other hand, doing intercalation solely for the sake of gaining an advantage in the UK Foundation Programme application is a bad idea.
I don't agree with medical schools that make intercalation compulsory for all students. There are legitimate reasons why a student may not want to intercalate. However, I do think that medical schools should actively promote the benefits of intercalation and give all students who wish to intercalate the opportunity to do so. In addition, students who are interested in intercalating should be given the encouragement and support by their family and friends. Intercalation is definitely not a waste of time and money. If you are thinking of doing intercalation, my advice is to go for it!