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Navigating the Challenges of External Intercalation

Navigating the Challenges of External Intercalation: Lessons Learned and Tips to Succeed in a New City and University!


Intercalation can be one of the biggest decisions you make in medical school. There’s the question of whether to stay at your home university or strike out and apply somewhere else. I decided to intercalate externally, moving to Edinburgh from Imperial College in London. Before deciding, I had to think hard about how I would manage spending a year away from my partner, family, and the amazing friends I’d made across three years of medical school. I’m glad I chose to come to Edinburgh, but it’s definitely been more challenging than staying would have been.

You have a whole new city, university and year group to adapt to, as well as the new degree. And you’re only there for a year, so it can feel like there’s not a lot of leeway to get things wrong. Thinking back, here’s what I wish I’d known when I started in September:


  • Have a worst-case scenario plan: if you feel rubbish, what will you do? When you’re miles from home, the support strategies you’ve developed already at medical school might not be available. Think about what would help you in advance, so you’re not thinking on your feet if  you are struggling. 

  • Reach out to other students. As an external student, you can be the only new person on your BSc. Getting to know people is harder when they already have established friendship groups. The internal students might need a little push to include you, because they also have a lot going on with starting a new degree! Ask them what’s going on in the medical school or what societies they’re part of, and go from there.

  • Reach out to your home friends. Let them know how much they mean to you and how much you want to stay friends with them on your year out. People might not realise you miss them, and knowing you’re going back to amazing people is a great comforter.

  • It’s OK to feel lonely, or down, or overwhelmed. Be aware of that when you go into this – you’re choosing to do something difficult, and it will be difficult at times. It’s a feature, not a bug. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to sit and wallow in feeling bad, but it’s dangerous to build up an idea of your external intercalation being perfect and bottle up negative feelings. 

  • Register with a GP. This sounds boring, but it will make things a lot easier if you are really struggling. If you have any pre-existing conditions or medications, be aware that these can be difficult to get transferred across quickly.

  • Be proud of yourself. You chose to do this degree, applied, and moved universities! You’re winning by being there.


Good luck! I hope you have an amazing external intercalation year and take care of yourself.



Photo by Tim Graf on Unsplash


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