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B. Medical Science: Three-years and tens-of-thousands of dollars, is it worth it?

B. Medical Science: Three-years and tens-of-thousands of dollars, is it worth it?

Question: I am considering studying a Bachelor of Medical Science as a pathway into medicine, as I didn’t get the ATAR for direct entry.  A lot of universities promote the course as a great ‘stepping stone’ into medicine; but it is an expensive gamble. 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.

Heidi –

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For this round table discussion we called in:

  • 1 x third year B. Medical Science student 
  • 1 x B. Medical Science drop out (dropped out second year)
  • 1 x B. Medical Science graduate (who works in medical device education)

The Working File: You are a third year Be. Medical Science student at the University of Sydney, can explain to me why you picked the course?

Jess, Third year B. 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.

The Working File: Why is that?

Jess, Third year B. Medical Science student: This is just my personal opinion; but from what I have observed in the past three years – there is an oversupply in graduates offering medical science skills; and to match that jobs in the government, academia and industry are poorly paid and insecure. I think this is because [and again this is my opinion] that medical research is largely funded by taxpayer money or pharmaceutical companies; and the result of that is a limited scope of potential employers in Australia.

The Working File: Would a B. of Medical Science from a university with the level of – I guess the word for it is ‘prestige’ that USYD has make you attractive in the competitive job market?

Jess, Third year B. Medical Science student: In my opinion and experience, no.

This is an industry built around research, and most successful researchers have a PhD. A B. Medical Science isn’t enough.

The Working File: A study from Australian Society for Medical Research (ASMR) revealed that 83% of research respondents had considered leaving active research for another career option. Can you relate to this anecdotally?

Jess, Third year B. Medical Science student: In my first month at university my lab lecturer said, “most of you will retrain for careers in teaching, engineering, medicine or sales,” – motivating no, correct yes. But to be a bit more positive, a girl I know who was in the 2019 graduating year; one girl moved to Germany and said the job market was a lot more lucrative.

The Working File: Hannah, you dropped out from a B. Medical Science at UTS in your second year and changed to B. Business. Can you tell me why?

Hannah, B. 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, medical 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 – who has varied and consistent work experience, who has voluntary contribution on my resume, and who was maintaining an HD average; it was alarming to me that I couldn’t even get a job working for free.

The Working File:  Kieran, you are a medical scientist. Can you speak to the comments above? Has your experience in the job market different to Hannah’s?

Keiran, Medical Scientist: I am a researcher at the Red Cross 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.

For high school students my advice is to answer the question, ‘what do medical scientists do?’ before enrolling in the course. We are the behind-the-scenes health professionals. If you’ve ever had blood taken, a medical scientist has been involved behind the scenes. If you donate blood there is a nurse taking the blood and then at the end there might be a doctor using the blood in an operating setting. But between A – B there are people involved.

So, as I said, I work at Red Cross in the lab. Day-to-day when you are in the lab you are on the ground doing a lot of the experiments and gathering data which you then give to your supervisor (the research fellow). All of the work you are doing contributes to research projects and research studies or publications. The work that I am doing will impact the end user. It’s a behind the scenes role with impact.

The Working File: What kind of data are you collecting? What is an example of something that you’d be looking for?

Keiran, Medical Scientist:  Every time someone delivers blood they will do viral testing on the donation, but that’s not me specifically – I work more in research and development. We are a bit more ‘future looking’ I guess. So, we look at the new technologies that are coming along. For example, we are currently looking at how we can store blood for longer so that we can make the best out of each donation. Another example, we are looking at is how we can use platelets to help people recover from burns. There’s a whole range of projects.

The Working File:  How did you land this job?

Keiran, Medical Scientist:  I do relate to Hannah here – it’s quite tricky if you’re just starting off. It’s like the old joke is that you “need three years of experience in a technique that’s only existed for one” to get this job.

In my experience, I think it’s a lot easier if you have some sort of lab experience while you are at university. There are lots of opportunities around while you are studying; take them up and then when you graduate you can reply on more than the qualification alone. There are always internships or research projects that you can participate in – you need to be proactive in getting practical skills that would be recognised by people working in a lab on your resume. Also, working in a lab will open doors to other jobs, this is an industry that kind of hires from within. Network and connections are key.

The Working File: Do you think network and connections are more valuable than the name of the university you completed your degree via?

Keiran, Medical Scientist:  To be honest, I think it took me about six months to really understand the value of the network. I wasn’t quite on the ball when I started my degree. Once I realised that the course would really be what I made of it, I really stepped up. I remember once day when this man came into a lecture AstraZeneca, one of the big pharmaceutical companies to talk about the importance of developing connections so that you can move into adjacent industries.

It really left an impression on me and I thought, ‘ok – you have this huge opportunity to grow your network that will open doors, leverage it.”

The Working File: Did you go onto complete a Postgraduate?

Keiran, Medical Scientist: Yes I did; and when I did my honours, the Dr. I studied under had a vacancy at the end of the year which I was able to take.

I think this was one of the things I really benefited from doing my post graduate was finding good professional mentors; basically the people supervised me through my Honours year not only helped me develop a lot of the skills, but they gave me the professional connections that I needed to take myself forward.

The Working File: Do you have any advice for future students?

Keiran, Medical Scientist:  I think my biggest advice would be that when you seek out intern opportunities (or a semester long research project); don’t just look at the skills you’ve develop but also consider the connections that are on offer. You need to be strategic here.

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