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Roundtable Discussion: The true value of ‘Medical Science’

Welcome to another, Footnotes Roundtable Discussion 

Hi Footnotes,

I am considering medical science as a pathway into medicine. I was just wondering what other medical science students had to say and how successful other applicants have been in transferring across. Most universities sell the course as a great ‘stepping’ stone into medicine; but it is an expensive gamble. I spoke to a student ambassador at The University of Sydney Open Day and asked what jobs were available for someone that didn’t get into medicine and her response was “medical sciences”. My concern is that I’ll spend three years and tens of thousands of dollars (not including the cost to relocate to Sydney) and have no strong job prospects.

Looking for insight and advice.

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For this round table discussion we called in:

  • 1 x third year medical science student 
  • 1 x medical science drop out (dropped out second year)
  • 1 x medical science graduate (who works in medical device education)

Sam: You are a third year medical science student at the University of Sydney, explain to me why you picked this trajectory?

Jess, Third year medical science student: The general consensus among the students enrolled in my course was that we had all missed out on undergraduate medicine, and this was the most relevant second choice. I am a third year ‘medsci’ student and postgraduate medicine and GAMSAT are my key goals. After studying for almost three years I feel a lot more prepared to sit the GAMSAT again and my GPA is high enough for ‘postgrad med’, so I guess, granted my goals…I am really happy with my choice. 

I personally wouldn’t recommend the course to someone that won’t be studying a postgraduate course though as I think as that this qualification is too generic as a stand alone course.

Sam: Can you expand on this?

Jess, Third year medical science student: Medical research is largely funded by tax payer money or pharmaceutical companies choice, this gives you a limited scope of potential employers in Australia. There is an oversupply in graduates offering medical science skills, and jobs in the government, academia and industry are poorly paid and insecure.

Sam: Would a Bachelor of Medical Science make you attractive in the competitive job market?

Jess, Third year medical science student: In my opinion and experience, no. This is an industry built around research, most researchers have a PhD.

Sam: A 2016 workforce survey by the Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR) revealed that 83 per cent of research respondents had considered leaving active research for another career option. Can you relate to this anecdotally?

Jess, Third year medical science student: In my first month at university my lab lecturer said, “most of you will retrain for careers in high-school teaching, engineering, medicine or sales,” most students think they will be the exception to that rule. However, from the handful of students I know well who were in the 2019 graduating year; one girl moved to Germany where she said she found there was a more lucrative job market and two are working in customer complaints handling at Beyer.

Sam: Hannah, you dropped out from the Bachelor of Medical Science in your second year and changed to business. Can you tell me why?

Hannah, Medical Science drop out: I loved the sound of medical science when I finished high school. Though, I didn’t do enough research before I jumped in. In my opinion the problem is that a medical science degree is too broad to grant you a pathway into the medical industry. Ultimately the course is full of students looking to do the GAMSAT.

If you graduate with a medical science degree you can use it to get into biomedical science research, hospital education or sales work for biomedical companies (this is selling pharmaceuticals or devices to medical professionals).

I went into the degree thinking that I’d like to end up in something like diagnostic pathology or transfusion. I ultimately dropped out because I got frustrated at how difficult and technical the course truly is, yet how on the other side, how underdeveloped the job market is.

You are learning really, really high level medical and science facts – but, it’s kind of like, “Oh okay, you have lots of knowledge, but can you do surgery?” – no.

In a sense, medicial science is just an anatomy and human sciences major. I moved into business after I started really considering my job opportunities. I applied for an internship at Cochlear in Sydney and they mentioned – anecdotally – that they receive thousands of applications a semester and favoured Biotechnology Engineers. I applied for nine unpaid internships at research labs in a two month period and was not successful in any. As a student who received 98.3 in my ATAR, has varied and consistent work experience, voluntary contribution on my resume, and was maintaining an HD average; it was alarming to me that I couldn’t even get a job working for free.

Sam: Keiran, you are a medical scientist. Can you speak to the comments above? Has your experience in the job market differed to Hannah’s?

Keiran, Medical scientist: I think you answer the question, ‘what medical scientists do?’ before you make judgement on the industry. We are the behind the scenes health professionals. If you’ve ever had blood taken, a medical scientist has been involved behind the scenes. You aren’t necessarily ‘researching’ – a lot of the work is clinical testing.

I am a medical scientist and think that the job prospects are not as bad as everyone above is saying! It’s no different to finishing with a law degree, or a business degree – of course it is going to be competitive. In saying that, you do need to be smart and future proof yourself. You need an AIMS accredited course on your resume, or one that covers the main areas of a diagnostic medical lab (micro, biochem, haematology, histology and transfusion) to land a role.

Sam: What is your job?

Keiran, Medical scientist: I work in a medical devices company that sells technology for heart surgery.

Medical devices are based on biomedical engineering and, as a general rule, either permanently or temporarily replace a body function. They can be everyday products like sticking plasters or glasses with a bi focus lens; or – at the sharp end, they might be sophisticated surgical supplies, like cardiac stents or joint prostheses.

The biggest proportion of my time is spent in hospitals within the theatre setting, I will ensure that the ‘technology’ I am selling is used properly by the professional. I love it. Another aspect of my role is education. It’s my job to work with hospital managers, nurses and clinical staff to educate them about the product, instruments and the procedure. The aim of my job is to improve the patient outcomes on behalf of the medical device company.

Sam: While this is a very technical job, what other skills are essential?

Keiran, Medical scientist:  My job is highly soft skill dependent. You need to be able to work with people and communicate complex concepts in a relatable way. Relationship building and creativity is almost as important as the technical skill.

Sam: 67% of the medical science students surveyed for this article (1) agreed that their university failed to prepare them for the reality of the course via their recruitment material. Do you agree with this?

Keiran, Medical scientist: Absolutely. I didn’t go into the course thinking that I would end up in pharmaceutical sales. I think there is a wider discussion that needs to be had around the push for STEM students which is not correctly matched to the job market. How is the government defining ‘STEM roles’ and which degrees equip students for the ‘boom’ they are building a narrative for. 

(1) n=1287 Medical Science student were surveyed, 2019, The Careers Department.

The information in this document is presented by The Footnotes for the purpose of sharing information.  While The Footnotes has made every effort to ensure that the material in this document is accurate and up-to-date, you should exercise your own independent skill and judgement before you rely on it. This article is not a substitute for independent professional advice and readers should obtain any appropriate professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances. The content may incorporate or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties.

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  • As someone who has completed both a Bachelor of Medical Science and a Bachelor of Pharmacy, and is now studying post-graduate medicine, I would 100% recommend doing a course with more direction than Medical Science.

    1) Post-graduate medicine is VERY competitive – this means that for some people, they will try for five or more years to get in to the degree. For some people, they were able to work as physios, pharmacists, paramedics and other medically relevant (and relatively well paying) jobs in this time. Others who had completed more generic courses such as medical science and health science, mostly continued working in their casual jobs that they had whilst they were studying (e.g. retail, receptionist work, hospitality) – whilst there’s nothing wrong with these options, if you’re looking to prepare yourself both intellectually and financially for four years of medicine, they’re not ideal
    2) I am thankful for my pharmacy degree EVERY day in medicine. Coming in to the degree, I think a lot of the medical science students think they will be most prepared for medicine out of everyone, because they have done some generic “medicine” type courses. This is far from the case. Whilst doing Medical Science degree gives you a very general overview of some concepts, most of the content that you learn in your degree is burnt through in the first one or two lectures in medicine, and then you’re back with everyone else. Pharmacy however, is constantly relevant. I find I have to do genuinely half as much study as some people because a big bulk of stuff we need to learn, I already know. Additionally, the concepts I have never covered before are a lot easier to understand when you have already worked with patient and doctors constantly
    3) Some people are not lucky enough to be able to live at home or receive money from their parents, and working during medicine is hard. Very hard. I work every weekend as a pharmacist, but because I am able to earn a good wage, I only need to work one day a week. Some of my colleagues however have not been as lucky and have had to work both days on the weekend and evenings – almost all of these colleagues have failed and are repeating. If money is going to be an issue for you (which it certainly is for me), you want to be in a position where you can support yourself without jeopardising your studies. Additionally, because I work in a hospital, I am constantly supplementing my knowledge for medicine, as I attend ward rounds, check patient test results, and evaluate their medications as part of my jobs. None of the other people I go to uni with will have this experience until at least our third year.

    In short, I would not recommend medical science as a stepping stone into medicine. If you are one of the lucky ones who gets straight in (remember, that yes, you’re smart but so are the other 8000 people who apply), and you don’t need to worry about income and don’t have any interest in a social life during medicine because you’re happy to study all weekend, then that’s okay, but I would without a doubt,recommend a degree that has some more direction as a “back up plan” for if you don’t have the dream run, and also, to make the degree easier on yourself all up!

  • This discussion has been very helpful as I was going to apply to study Bachelor of Medical Science thinking I would be able to find a job related to the degree. The plan after a while would have been to go on to study Biomedical Research which would have been another year of studying. Thank you guys for the discussion as it was very enlightening.

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