Medicine vs Biochemistry: Which One is for You?

Medicine or Biochemistry……?

If you love science, the decision between medicine or biochemistry can be hard. For those of you that don’t know me, I’m 23 years old and I’m currently studying graduate medicine. My previous degree was in biochemistry. Whether you’re applying to university and can’t decide or you’re deciding on graduate medicine I wanted to tell you about both. But, before I dive in, it’s important to know that this is my personal experience and different courses/ universities are very different. Also, I’m a first year medic, so there are still a lot of aspects of medical school which I have not experienced yet.

The Similarities

The most obvious similarity is the science part. Biochemistry has a lot of overlap with medicine. Human biology, cells, disease etc are all topics which are covered in both degrees. You’ll also develop certain skills in both, such as critical thinking, reading scientific papers and problem solving. In order to chose the right course for you have a look on the university website. There is usually a lot of information about what modules you will be doing and how much scope there is for choice. As far as similarities go, this is pretty much it, they are both actually very different. (but remember I did biochemistry, degrees such as biomedical science may have a lot more similarities).

Typical 2nd Year Undergraduate Biochemistry Timetable

I’ve inserted an example of what my timetable was like most weeks in second year. Of course this varies a lot between universities. Also if you’re in sixth form, you might think this timetable looks very empty which you’re probably not be used to.

In university you will have a lot less contact hours (scheduled teaching) than in school but you will have a lot of work which you will be expected to do outside of lectures.

Typical second year biochemistry timetable

Typical 1st Year Graduate Entry Medicine Timetable (Corona edition)

So, my experience of a ‘normal’ medical school timetable is limited as I started med school during coronavirus. This timetable looks VERY empty, these are our official scheduled hours. Most of our lectures are asynchronous so we can complete them in our own time and we usually have 10-15 lectures a week. We also get Wednesdays off which is nice, they call it ‘wellbeing Wednesday’. Although, unfortunately, I have never managed to actually have this Wednesday off due to the volume of work.

Typical first year medicine timetable

The Differences

The biggest difference, and something you should be thinking about is that medicine is a vocational course, meaning at the end of it you have a career. When you study biochemistry (or other degrees) you’re not set in a career. You have a lot of freedom and time to decide what career you want to go into.

The length of the degrees. Medicine can be 5-6 years, and biochemistry is usually 3-4.

Learning breadth vs depth. In medicine there is A LOT to cover, so you don’t really get the chance to go into the tiny details. In biochemistry you do plenty of detail. It just depends on what you prefer, but don’t base your decision on this alone. If you like details, but want to do medicine, you could pursue a career in medical research. The same thing goes for labs, in medicine there are plenty of lab opportunities if thats what you enjoy. If you don’t like labs you can decide not to focus on them. I’m afraid in biochemistry there is less choice. You will be doing a lot of labs so have a think about whether thats something you might enjoy.

Also: Biochemistry is not just human!

Studying Medicine after Biochemistry

Something I got told a lot before I started med school was that I would find it easy because of my background in biochemistry. Spoiler alert…this was wrong! Now, obviously it does help with some topics like physiological cascades and mechanism of actions. Apart from these, I haven’t yet found it as helpful as everyone said it would be. If you decide to go the graduate entry route and you want an undergraduate degree that will prime you well for medicine I would suggest looking into biomedical/ medical sciences or physiology. This doesn’t, however, mean that this is the better choice, I wouldn’t change my degree for the world and I really think this is a great opportunity to learn something other than medicine.

If you want to know more about graduate medicine, here are some of my other posts 🙂

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