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Medicine is without a doubt the hardest degree to enter from high school in Australia, so it’s extremely important to have a solid backup plan. Here is a complete list of the best backup courses for medicine in Australia to prepare you for medicine and provide a base to fall back on for the future.

In this article, we’ll explain why it’s important to have a backup plan for medicine, why there is absolutely no shame in having one, why traditional backup plan options for medicine may not be the best choice, and my opinion on which courses are the best options for aspiring medical students.

Why Have A Backup Course For Medicine?

It is well established that the overall acceptance rate for undergraduate medicine courses in Australia is around 5%. This means that for every 100 students who apply to an undergraduate medicine degree, 95 will fail to gain entry and just 5 will be successful.

Medicine is without a doubt the most difficult degree to enter into from high school, due mainly to extremely high demand and fierce competition between the brightest and most diligent students in the country. It also seems that it is only becoming more challenging to become a doctor from high school as entry scores continue to climb year after year.

For most universities, you’ll require a phenomenally high ATAR between around 95 to 99.95 and additional requirements such as the UCAT and interview. With such high entry requirements, and the relatively low success rate for undergraduate medicine, it is vital to have a strong backup plan in place. Even the best of the best students, like those I study at Griffith with (99.85+) had a backup preference in place, and were unsure they would get the ATARs they did while they were in Year 12.

A Myth: Having A Backup Means I’m Not Committed Enough

There is a common myth circulating around the medical admissions space, particularly for undergraduate medicine, that says even considering a backup option means you’re not committed to medicine enough. This is absolutely not the case. Given the extremely high entry requirements for medical degrees straight from high school, having a backup plan might actually indicate someone who is more committed than a student who doesn’t as they’ve seriously analysed the requirements and pathway ahead and can put themselves in a strong position for graduate medicine entry.

For many students, it can be very difficult to get over this mental hurdle that considering a backup plan somehow suggests you’re not committed to medicine, but remember that having a strong plan in place for every possibility isn’t you giving up on undergraduate entry, and it’s certainly not you giving up on the prospect of medicine all together. Having a backup plan is simply a vital part of the process of medicine applications given how competitive the process can be.

Does Your Backup Degree Matter?

For most universities, the specific degree that you study prior to medicine likely matters far less than you think. Several medical schools, like the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne, have no prerequisites at all and others like the University of Queensland have subject prerequisites that you can study even if they don’t form part of your degree.

However, the degree you study before your medical degree does matter in the sense that you want to maximise your GPA, you want to be as well-prepared for GAMSAT as possible (which a science-based degree may help with), and you want to have solid back-up options if you don’t end up pursuing medicine afterwards, whatever the reason may be.

Is Biomedicine A Good Backup For Medicine?

Pros of BiomedicineCons of Biomedicine
1. Brilliant for a career in research.
2. Relevant to pre-clinical years of medicine.
3. Relevant to Section 3 of GAMSAT.
4. Fulfils subject prerequisites for medicine.
1. Competitive environment with top students.
2. Arguably difficult course for high GPA.
3. Limited career prospects outside of research.
4. Many universities don’t require prerequisites.

The first course you’ll likely consider when thinking about a backup plan for medicine is biomedicine. This is the course that almost all universities recommend for students to take if they are unsuccessful in gaining entry into medicine straight from high school. While it’s a common choice for many students, biomedicine may not be the best choice for you, depending on your goals.

Firstly, biomedicine can be quite a competitive environment as most of the students who have failed to gain entry into medicine will pursue a biomedicine course. This means the calibre of students and their commitment to achieving very high grades is likely higher than many other courses, and the competitiveness of the degree is certainly an important consideration.

Another important note for biomedicine is that the course can be rigid and intense. Although there is room for electives, it’s generally established that biomedicine is more rigid and has less room for flexibility when compared to a traditional science course, and the actual content of the course itself can be challenging, with a heavy focus on anatomy, physiology, and basic science.

Finally, biomedicine doesn’t open many career doors if you don’t end up pursuing medicine, for whatever reason. A biomedicine degree is suited to a career in research and is 100% a brilliant choice if that is a career that you would be interested if medicine does not work out. However, students should be aware of the limited job prospects outside of research with a biomedicine degree as many students who fail to gain entry into medicine after their biomedicine degree find themselves trapped with the degree and no job opportunities they are genuinely interested in.

Is Science A Good Backup For Medicine?

Pros of ScienceCons of Science
1. Brilliant for a career in research.
2. Relevant to pre-clinical years of medicine.
3. Relevant to Section 3 of GAMSAT.
4. More flexible than biomedicine.
5. Fulfils subject prerequisites for medicine.
1. Competitive environment (less than biomed).
2. Somewhat difficult course for high GPA.
3. Limited career prospects outside of research.
4. Many universities don’t require prerequisites.

A general science course may be a good option for preparation to medicine. However, just like biomedicine, it’s important to be aware of the difficulty of the degree and you should weigh up whether the difficulty is worth it, especially considering that many medical schools now don’t require prerequisites.

A general science course is generally more flexible than biomedicine, and the course is arguably less competitive than biomedicine as a lower proportion of students will be vying for a place in postgraduate medicine. The increased flexibility is a huge plus as you’ll be able to choose courses that you’re genuinely interested in which makes it so much easier to study consistently.

The career considerations for a general science degree are similar to biomedicine: there are very few career opportunities outside of research. This of course depends on your specific course, though students should be aware of the limited opportunities for backup careers if they are unsuccessful in medicine entrance.

What Are The Best Backup Courses For Medicine Australia? Allied Health!

Pros of Allied HealthCons of Allied Health
1. Amazing career backup opportunities.
2. Relevant to pre-clinical years of medicine.
3. Relevant to Section 3 of GAMSAT.
4. Fulfils subject prerequisites for medicine.
5. Gives clinical / allied health exposure.
6. Less competitive environment than science.
1. Not as ‘streamlined’ as science courses.
2. Not a traditional, widespread approach.

In my opinion, the best backup courses for a career in medicine are allied health courses. These include physiotherapy, pharmacy, nursing, optometry, occupational therapy, paramedicine, and others. This is because these allied health courses cover medicine prerequisites (where applicable), most cover basic sciences for Section 3 of the GAMSAT, they provide a less competitive environment than biomedicine and science, the courses are arguably less arduous than biomedicine (allowing for a higher GPA) and most importantly provide incredible backup career options for students who don’t end up pursuing medicine after their degrees.

These courses also provide clinical experience that will be invaluable when you enter the clinical years of medicine. I also know heaps of students studying medicine who can actually work as pharmacists part-time while they complete their degree, giving them a huge advantage over the science graduates. The main cons of allied health degrees is they may be slightly less flexible than science courses, and the approach of studying allied health prior to medicine is not as widespread.

While you would be completely stuck if you studied biomedicine, didn’t make it into medicine, and were not interested in a career as a researcher, studying allied health gives you the perfect backup career if medicine does not pan out for whatever reason. Of course, it is still important to have an interest in the allied health course you choose and this option may not be the best for everyone, but allied health (particularly physiotherapy) is in my opinion the perfect backup course for medicine in Australia.

For more information about choosing allied health courses, and why they’re a great choice as a backup for medicine in Australia, check out this post from Mana on Med Students Online.

Are Arts Courses Good Backups For Medicine?

Pros of ArtsCons of Arts
1. Arguably less arduous than other options.
2. Fosters diverse ideas for future doctors.
3. Relevant to Section 2 of GAMSAT.
4. Many unis don’t require prerequisites.
1. Limited career prospects outside of Arts.
2. Don’t meet med prerequisites for relevant unis.
3. Need additional study for GAMSAT Section 3.

I 100% recognise that not everyone who wants to study medicine has an innate interest in the allied health professions outlined above, and for some an arts degree would be preferable. This is definitely another brilliant option. The reason why arts courses are completely viable (and actually smart) is because they’re arguably easier to achieve a competitive GPA for graduate medicine entry, many universities are now phasing out prerequisites for medicine (as mentioned above) and they can be extremely helpful for Section 2 of the GAMSAT.

The only major cons of arts degrees for medicine entrance are their lack of focus on Section 3 of GAMSAT and their lack of solid career backup plans if students don’t gain entry into medicine which are important considerations. Having said this, Section 3 can definitely be tackled without a science-related degree, and backup careers are still possible with arts degrees.

Conclusion: Backups For Medicine

With many universities no longer requiring prerequisites for medicine as they transition from the MBBS to the MD, the specific degree you choose is less important than you may think. Having said that, I think the key considerations for students should be:

  1. A degree that allows you to maximise your GPA.
  2. A degree that prepares you for GAMSAT (especially S3).
  3. A degree that gives you career backups if medicine doesn’t work out.
  4. A degree you’re passionate about (so you study).

Although your ultimate goal is to study medicine, choosing a degree solely for this purpose without being passionate about the degree itself makes getting the motivation to sit down and study consistently so much harder. It’s super important to be passionate about the degree you choose. Whether that’s Arts, Science, or even Biomedicine for you, a degree you’re passionate about is probably the most important consideration.

It’s also important to choose a degree that gives you great career prospects if medicine doesn’t work out for any reason. Because of this, I believe that allied health degrees like physiotherapy and pharmacy are the best backup degrees for medicine in Australia. They allow you to maximise your GPA, provide excellent career backups, prepare you for both the preclinical and clinical years of medicine, and prepare you for GAMSAT. Thanks for reading, and best of luck with your studies!

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