What is the best primary degree for Graduate-Entry Medicine?

In the 2015 / 16 academic year, 374 students came straight from the Leaving Cert and commenced a direct-entry medicine course in one of the five Irish medical schools. Of these, 320 got the points on their first attempt at the Leaving Cert, while 54 got in after repeating [1].

Some unsuccessful applicants will start other college courses and will hold out hope of getting into medicine via the graduate-entry route. This post examines the relevant factors for those people in deciding on an alternative course to pursue for their primary degree.

There are two ways of studying medicine in Ireland:

Direct-entry courses: The route for people starting medicine straight from school. The approximate number of EU places shown in the table [2] indicate the number of places for Irish school-leavers on each course, but these numbers also include the places that students from other EU countries and mature applicants can apply for. Nonetheless, the majority of places are taken by Irish school-leavers.

Fig. 1 - List of direct-entry courses in Irish medical schools

Fig. 1 - List of direct-entry courses in Irish medical schools

Graduate-entry courses

Applicants must have a 2H1 (upper second class honours) in an Honours Bachelor’s degree – what I will call the primary degree in this article. Places are allocated purely on the basis of results in the GAMSAT exam [3] [4].

Fig. 2 - List of graduate-entry courses in Irish medical schools

Fig. 2 - List of graduate-entry courses in Irish medical schools

As we all know, the points for direct-entry courses are very high. In 2016 the final points for the five direct-entry colleges ranged between 723 and 730. I’m sure most Leaving Cert applicants for medicine will be putting down “back-up plan” courses on their CAO application form in case they don’t get enough points for direct-entry medicine. Some will be content to pursue a career in something other than medicine, while others will be eyeing graduate-entry medicine a few years down the road. So what is the best backup course to apply for if you are still harbouring hopes of getting into medicine via the graduate entry route?

There is one caveat I must add at this point: graduate-entry medicine courses are not cheap. The additional costs involved in this route are dealt with in detail in the CAREEROSPHERE Medicine talk.

For those who still want to keep the option open, what factors should they consider in deciding on their backup courses?


Course Length

Honours Bachelor’s degrees are usually three or four years long. All else equal, a shorter course is better as it reduces the amount of time and expense spent on meeting the minimum entry requirement for graduate-entry medicine. The majority of three-year Honours Bachelor’s degrees are in Arts, Commerce, Law, and Social Science.


Preparation for GAMSAT

The GAMSAT tests candidate’s knowledge in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and so one could take the view that a degree with significant content in one or more of these would be ideal. It certainly is an advantage but many graduate medical students come from non-science backgrounds. GAMSAT students can get sample papers or take preparatory courses that can prepare them sufficiently for the exam. From the point of view of entering graduate medical school straight from the primary degree, there is certainly a strong argument to be made for degrees with significant scientific content. GAMSAT can be taken twice a year in Ireland, in March and September [5]. It would be very difficult for say, a Law student, to undertake GAMSAT while still in college, and also get the required 2H1 in their primary degree. Indeed, even for a candidate studying in a highly relevant area, it’s a big ask.


Interest in the course

You must have a certain minimum level of interest in the course. If you find it extremely boring, there’s a danger you might not stick it out for the primary degree at all.


Usefulness of the degree in its own right

If the student subsequently decides not to pursue graduate medicine, it would be highly preferable to have done a primary degree in an area that the student can carve out a good career in. An obvious route that jumps to mind in this conversation is a Science degree but remember, it is very common for Science graduates who wish to work in their field to go on to do a Masters (usually 1 – 2 years) or PhD (usually 3 – 5 years) in that area.


A lot will change in the next few years. Right now, maybe you can’t see yourself doing anything other than medicine, but it’s important to leave yourself with options.


[1] Figures taken from an article in the Sunday Business Post, June 5th 2016. The SBP got the information from a Freedom of Information request.

[2] These figures have been compiled from a number of sources: College prospectuses, college websites, calls to college offices, and the Irish Times Second Round CAO Offers supplement dated Aug 27th 2015.

[3] GAMSAT stands for Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test. It was initially developed to select candidates for graduate-entry courses in health professions in Australian universities, but it’s now used by many UK and Irish third level institutions also.

[4] Non-EU applicants entry requirements are largely the same but typically allow for a GPA score (GPA stands for Grade Point Average, which is used for academic grades in the US and elsewhere) and an MCAT score (Medical College Admission Test – basically the GAMSAT equivalent in the US)

[5] Note: GAMSAT results can only be used for two consecutive years. A 2016 GAMSAT result can be used for applications in 2016 and 2017, but not 2018.