Can you Become a Doctor with a Chemistry Degree?

Kate Onissiphorou

by Kate Onissiphorou

11th May 2022

While a chemistry degree alone won’t allow you to become a medical doctor in the UK, it can help you to gain entry to a medical school. Many subjects on a medicine course either focus on chemistry or are related to it. If you have a degree in chemistry, you already have a good foundation and proven aptitude in science and mathematics.

A chemistry degree is sufficient for you to be employed in the medical field or a related industry. For example, you might choose to work as a medical diagnostic laboratory technician in a hospital or a drug designer in a pharmaceutical company. However, it’s not sufficient to qualify you as a medical doctor. If this is your aim, you will need to attend medical school.

Can you study medicine with a chemistry degree?

In the UK, medical schools have certain admission requirements you must meet. You may either be admitted as an undergraduate or graduate student. If you already have a degree in chemistry, you can apply as a graduate student. This should significantly shorten your coursework as some of your major subjects in chemistry will be credited.

Here’s how getting into medical school can work:

The steps to getting into medical school

Depending on the medical school, you may still be required to take the admissions test and undergo an interview. Once you pass the admission requirements, you then have to follow the course syllabus and fulfil all the requirements. This takes about five years. Once you graduate, you’ll need to take the medical licensure exam to become a general practitioner.

A male GP taking an older man's blood pressure

After getting your medical licence, you must take a two-year foundation course as a general practitioner in a clinical setting like a hospital or clinic, where you can practise what you’ve learned.

Core medical training (CMT) or the Acute Common Care Stem (ACCS) training programme takes a further two or three years to complete. This is the first stage of your speciality training. You can then focus on a specialised field like cardiology. It takes about four to seven years of formal study and practice (residency) before you become a specialist.

You may therefore need to undergo up to 15 years of formal education, training, and clinical practice before you become a medical specialist. Even after this, you will still need to regularly attend seminars, training and online courses each year to earn Continuous Professional Development (CPD) points. CPD is necessary to ensure you keep current with new developments in medicine.

Why do doctors need to study chemistry?

Chemistry, especially biochemistry, is a foundation of medicine. Studying chemistry will give you a better understanding of how various classes of medicines work and interact with the human body.

Understanding biochemical pathways is crucial in diagnosing and treating some diseases, especially those that have underlying genetic and hormonal causes. Fundamentally, medicine is about repairing the biochemical processes that have gone awry. These include immunity-related diseases and genetic metabolic diseases.

Is a medical doctor a scientist?

In a strict sense, a scientist is a highly specialised expert who conducts investigations, academic research, and practical studies on a specific topic in a particular field of natural science. A scientist systematically gathers data and evidence, formulates hypotheses, and tests these hypotheses to have a better understanding of the natural world.

Professional scientists are typically connected to a university and they publish their research in peer-reviewed journals. They’re also members of scientific organisations in their own fields of expertise.

Most medical doctors practise their profession in hospitals, clinics, and medical care facilities such as assisted seniors’ homes. Their practice has little room for pure academic research.

Female doctor wearing a mask checking on an elderly female patient

However, medical doctors can still be considered scientists in a broader sense because they apply the scientific method in their diagnoses and day-to-day work. Some medical doctors also choose to focus on pure scientific research and academic studies, which makes them professional scientists rather than clinical practitioners.

Is a Doctor of Science (ScD) the same as a PhD?

Whether a Doctor of Science degree and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree have the same academic weight or qualifications depends on the jurisdiction and individual university. Both focus on academic research and are regarded as a high level of academic degree.

However, a PhD tends to be more varied and can include non-science specialisations such as music, literature, and history. An ScD, meanwhile, is more focused on the natural sciences, such as chemistry.

In England, you can earn a PhD degree in any available field of study by writing a dissertation and undergoing an oral defence of your research topic. The panel of examiners usually provides corrections and suggestions to further improve the research. You’ll normally need to have completed a master’s degree before you apply for a PhD.

A ScD degree, however, is awarded for a collection of research published after you’ve completed your academic degrees. In England, a ScD is a higher doctorate level than a PhD. In other countries, however, it is equivalent to a PhD in a scientific field of study.

Young male student in scrubs writing research notes after looking through a microscope in a lab

How long does it take to gain a PhD in Chemistry?

In the UK, you can finish a PhD degree in chemistry in three years if you’re a full-time student. This period includes curricular studies, thesis/dissertation writing and oral examination. It may take up to six years to complete if you study part-time.

Researching, writing, and editing your dissertation can take about a year. Depending on the university and academic requirements, a dissertation may range from 70,000 to 100,000 words.

Find out more about what you can do with a chemistry degree in our careers in chemistry resources hub.

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