Best Universities to Study Medicine in the World

Feb 7, 2020Blog Articles, Medicine Articles

A degree in medicine spans many years, so it’s important to make a good choice when committing yourself to this course of study! This guide is designed to help you figure out where in the world you want to study and practice medicine. 

But first, what does studying medicine really look like?

medicine summer school

What does a Medicine degree entail?


A degree in medicine is divided into two phases:


Pre-Clinical phase

During the Pre-Clinical phase, which lasts 2-3 years, there usually isn’t much patient contact. Instead, the emphasis is on the academic, theoretical side of medicine. During this phase, you learn about the human body in terms of health and diseases. You’ll study the main disciplines of medicine including:

  • Anatomy (the physical structure of the body)
  • Biochemistry (how things work at a molecular level) 
  • Embryology (the study of how humans develop)
  • Epidemiology (the study of demographics and statistics – e.g. how many males versus females are affected by a certain disease)
  • Genetics (the study of genes and inheritance)
  • Histology (what the body looks like microscopically)
  • Microbiology (the study of microbes) 
  • Pathology (the study of disease)
  • Pharmacology (the study of drugs)
  • Physiology (how the body normally functions)

Alongside the academic studies you’ll also be attending a skills lab where you learn basic clinical skills, such as measuring blood pressure and giving injections. You’ll be assessed by way of written exams, skills assessments and practical tests.


The Clinical Phase

The Clinical phase, usually lasting 3 years, is where you do clinical training to get hands-on experience and apply your knowledge in a teaching hospital. You complete rotations in different specialties, and during each round (lasting 1-3 months) you spend your time working at that department.


The Internship

This phase involves working in a hospital, getting involved in surgeries and learning from more senior doctors to get you ready for practice. Some universities integrate this into the clinical phase, and some have it is an additional year following the clinical phase.

pre clinical study medicine

Teaching Methods


There are two main ways in which the pre-clinical phase is taught. 

1. Traditional Split

The so-called traditional split is teaching by discipline (e.g you study anatomy, then physiology, then pathology and so on). 


2. Integrated Split

An increasingly more common method is the integrated split, where you study system by system. For example, you’d study the anatomy, physiology, histology, etc. of a certain system in the body (let’s say the heart and blood vessels), be assessed for it, then move onto another body system, and so on.


Learning Methods


Across the world, universities have one of two main learning methods: The traditional method and problem-based learning (PBL). The traditional method involves getting all your information via frequent lectures and applying knowledge in practicals. With PBL, lectures are much less frequent and focus on interesting ideas, but the main way you learn is by coming together in small groups for tutorials. In these tutorials you receive a case (problem) and discuss it. And based on this you conduct your own research to present to the rest of the group, thus learning in the process.

So, how does PBL work? It involves seven steps that you follow in groups of 10 to 15 students.

  1. Discuss the case and make sure everyone understands the problem
  2. Identify the questions that need to be answered to shed light on the case
  3. Brainstorm what the group already knows and identify potential solutions
  4. Analyse and structure the results of the brainstorming session
  5. Formulate learning goals for the knowledge that is still lacking – this is what you base your study/research on.
  6. Do independent study, individually or in smaller groups: read articles or books, follow practicals or attend lectures to gain the required knowledge
  7. Discuss the findings

The initial five steps are covered in the first tutorial. You then have a few days to work individually or in small groups to find answers (step 6) to the learning goals (e.g. how do the limbs develop?) in time for the second tutorial. In the second tutorial you discuss what you found, then begin with steps 1-5 again, in preparation for the next case.
To find out more about PBL, check out this resource from Maastricht University. 


What happens after med school?

You can either graduate after the 5-7 years with a bachelor’s degree (BSc) or a master’s (MSc) depending on the country, but either way you graduate as a doctor. In the UK for example you graduate with a BSc. While in the Netherlands, the study is split (3yrs BSc and 3yrs MSc) so that you graduate with an MSC. In the US and Canada, medicine isn’t even an undergraduate study option. This means you have to complete a separate undergraduate degree first (e.g. a 3 year BSc in biology), before even applying to med school.

With that being said, here’s some info on the top 5 universities for medicine (according to research done by Times Higher Education).

clinical phase medicine

Best Universities for Medicine


To get into this course you have to take a short aptitude test (the BMAT), which assesses your ability to think and interpret data. Based on this and the rest of your selection criteria, you might get shortlisted for an interview (usually four interviews). After this you’ll find out whether or not you got accepted.

Medicine at Oxford is split into 3 years of pre-clinical and 3 years of clinical studies. Through a traditional split (by discipline) and traditional teaching methods, your pre-clinical years give you a thorough grounding the theory behind practice. All students in the pre-clinical phase undertake an experimental research project. This will be based on their own interests, allowing students to utilise the university’s world class facilities. For your clinical years, you’ll spend most of your time at the John Radcliffe teaching hospital (where Oxford Scholastica Medicine course students also get to practice!).

The course only takes in a small number of people, so you get the benefit of really getting to know staff and students in a relaxed environment. It also means tutoring can be tailored to your specific needs and style.

Oxford med graduates are in high demand – 100% of students are in work or doing further studies 6 months after finishing!


This course is 4 years, following on from a pre-clinical undergraduate study. This means you have to do a bachelor’s degree in something else before you start this course. PBL is being introduced as a teaching method here, with two curricular tracks offered: one focuses on science and the other on practice. Partnered with many useful institutions such as MIT, being at Harvard provides a variety of research opportunities. For example, there are over 200 elective courses!

The interview day is an open, relaxed day where you explore the medical campus and get to talk to students. You will be interviewed by members of the committee at some point during the day, and a few months later you get your answer from Harvard.


Cambridge has the same traditional split and teaching methods as Oxford. And it also offers another world class medical education. The selection process is similar to that of Oxford. A big advantage at Cambridge is that you’ll have weekly supervisions during your clinical years. During this time, a junior doctor will closely monitor and guide you.


The selection process is much like that of Oxford and Cambridge, with a BMAT test followed by an interview. However, the interviews comprise of a series of mini-interviews lasting about 45 mins.

The program is split into phases: phase one (3 years), phase two (1 year), phase three (2 years). During phase 1, Imperial College teaches an integrated split via the PBL method. This provides you with sufficient knowledge in the first two years to move onto clinical rotations in the third year. Phase 2 comprises a supervised research project in an area of interest. And phase 3 (clinical phase) consists of clinical rotations at the teaching hospitals of London, with an apprenticeship in the main field of interest.


The course at Stanford is comparable with that of Harvard, with a similar admission procedure and interview. Lasting 4 years, this program is taught with an established PBL system focusing on early clinical exposure. In addition, being at Stanford grants you the opportunity to volunteer in Stanford’s Cardinal Free Clinics and learn basic clinical skills very early on. As a bonus, you’ll share your faculty with six Nobel prize winners!

alternative best medical schools

Alternative Universities

Med school isn’t just about the UK and US! While it’s true that in most countries medicine is taught in the home language, there are a few exceptions where internationally-focused universities offer courses in English. 

Two of the highly ranked universities in this group are located in the Netherlands. 

It’s important to note that in the Netherlands, med school is split into a 3 year bachelor phase (taught in English in two universities: Maastricht and Groningen), followed by a 3 year master’s phase (taught in Dutch across the whole of the Netherlands, with no English options). Therefore, if you plan on studying medicine in the Netherlands, you need to be prepared to learn the language. After all, you will be treating Dutch patients, so a knowledge of the language is needed. Don’t worry though; three years living in a Dutch-speaking country, along with the language courses provided by the university, are more than enough to bring you up to speed. 

Here are a few examples:


University of Maastricht (Netherlands) – BSc & Master’s

A pioneer in PBL, Maastricht is a top university offering you the chance to be fully in control of your medical studies. To get in, you need to complete three selection rounds: the first is submitting your grades and diploma; the second round involves building up a portfolio of assigned essays. If you do well in the first rounds, you get invited to participate in the selection day in Maastricht. Here you will complete the third selection round, involving a computer test and a written test.

A huge advantage at the University of Maastricht is that from the first year, you gain experience in conducting consultations in simulated patient contacts (SPCs). During an SPC, an actor/actress, whose job it is to play the part of a patient, will come to you with complaints. And so you will learn how to handle a consultation without the pressure of handling a real patient. This prepares you well for the third year, where you’ll be going to outpatient clinics every week to participate in real consultations with guidance from a specialist.


University of Groningen (Netherlands) – BSc & Master’s

Although slightly more traditional than Maastricht, Groningen also offers a problem-based learning style. It is universally regarded as a top university, ranking regularly in the top 100 universities according to THE. As part of the English track, you can study medicine either with a focus on global health or molecular medicine. The latter orients you more towards research, while the former more towards practice. But both will leave you graduating as a medical doctor!

The selection procedure is the same as for Maastricht, involving three rounds ending with a set of tests taken in Groningen.


University of Milan (Italy) – BSc

The unique thing about this medicine course is that there are no admission procedures except one entry exam. You don’t need high school grades, portfolios or extracurricular activities. The exam (called the IMAT, held in English) is held in more than 20 cities around the world, so you don’t have to fly to Italy until you know you’re in. It is, however, very competitive.

What sets Milan apart from the Dutch universities is that the full course is taught in English. And as a bonus, Italian language lessons are provided simply to help with your daily life and communication.


Next Steps


  • Why Study Medicine? Here are some of the many reasons to think about a career in the health sector.
  • Wondering what you can do to prepare a strong application to medical school? Here’s a post to guide you through the most useful extracurricular activities for budding medical students
  • A summer school in medicine is a great way to prove and develop your interest in the subject and try your hand at problem based learning!

Check out the Medicine Summer School

Oxford Scholastica’s Medicine Summer School will pave the way for your academic career into medicine, equipping you with medical knowledge, practical clinical skills and a better understanding of how to make applications to the top medical schools around the world.