Published on May 20, 2024

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Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeships NHS Guide

Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeships (MDDA) are a newly introduced pathway to medical school and a medical degree. As part of the NHS long-term workforce strategy, this route aims to train 2,000 doctors per year by 2031/32 and should be a key element in making the profession more accessible and representative of local communities, by allowing those unable to follow a traditional route to enter the profession. But what does it really mean to become a medical doctor apprentice and how do you go about it? And most importantly, is it something that could be right for you?

What is a Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship?

Simply put, a Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship is a different way of obtaining a medical degree, through a very practical and hands-on approach to learning, while getting paid for it. However, it also involves spending some of what would usually be your ‘holiday time’ doing a job within the NHS which may be any number of things but can include being a porter, doing admin tasks or working in a role you have previously held within the NHS (usually an allied healthcare profession).

Structure and benefits

Currently, the structure of degree apprenticeships in medicine is still unknown but we do know it will involve a great deal of hands-on work and some other benefits.

  1. Diversity and Inclusion: This route can not only offer financial accessibility but also increase the number of medical school places offered through non-traditional means, and due to the smaller number of places and different admissions schemes can account for more prior learning.
  2. Shaping a New System: New developments such as a degree apprenticeship system give you the chance to give feedback and help develop and shape a new system for those who will come after you as well.
  3. Continuity: For the duration of your studies you will stay within the same trust and often work with people you know well in small teams. Additionally, the current plan will let you continue in your existing trust for your Foundation training, meaning a guaranteed training spot close to home and no relocation.

But let’s look at 3 other aspects of this in a bit more detail.

Integrated learning

Integrated learning means to have a balanced approach of theoretical and practical work within your studies, and this is especially important in professional degrees such as medicine or other healthcare fields. This will give you the opportunity to quickly develop new skills in a supportive environment as well as observe different techniques performed by many different doctors and practice them on models and on patients once you are ready.

Current plans state that the blended learning approach implemented in this system will consist of face-to-face and online learning which will provide you more flexibility and can help those who want to study from home during their learning time. The smaller cohort for these apprenticeships can also mean that it is easier to tailor the programme to individual students needs, be it around childcare, caring responsibilities or other commitments. This self-guided approach will be particularly suited to those who are self-motivated and able to work well independently.

Finally, it is important to consider that integrated learning also means you can build your professional network early on as you will be spending the majority of your time on the wards.

Financial accessibility

Since degree apprenticeships are fully funded this will have multiple advantages for students enrolled in them.

Since it looks like a good number of degree apprenticeships will be aimed at graduate entry medicine students (those with a previous degree in a relevant field) or specifically existing healthcare professionals with qualifications as Advanced Nurse Practitioners or Physicians Associates it is very relevant to consider tuition fees and loss of income during studies. Degree apprenticeships help to offset some of that and although it is unlikely a degree apprentice will earn the same as they did in their previous role their tuition fees should be covered by their trust, meaning they would not need to be taking a student loan.

Additionally, although they will be earning less than they did previously they will still earn more than traditional medical students who receive no salary, although some receive an NHS bursary in their last and second-last year of study. As such, financial reasons may form a huge incentive for applications to a degree apprentice scheme vs a traditional medical degree.

Workforce solutions

As we discussed, this is really all aiming to increase the number of doctors available in the UK. This scheme aims to increase the number of medical graduates and make sure they come from a variety of environments so the healthcare workforce can be representative of the population it serves. It is estimated that by 2030, 1 in 4 GP posts will be vacant and schemes such as this one form an important component in navigating that problem. This is additionally complicated by recent reports which state that many medical students are thinking of leaving the UK.

However, it is good to keep in mind that this is neither a quick nor an easy solution to the existing problem.

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  1. You may be bound to the trust for your foundation year: As I mentioned before, you may be bound to your trust for your foundation years and that can be great – but equally, it may not be something you want if you are hoping to move.
  2. High competition ratios: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, in conjunction with Anglia Ruskin University, received 388 applications for 25 posts for 2024 entry which shows just how competitive entry was, even in the first year of the programme. It is important to note that applications were only open to postgraduates which limits applicant numbers further.
  3. New programme and training pathway: We discuss this more later but it important to realise that this is a new and untested programme and it is not clear how and in which capacity it will continue. Learning experiences may not be optimised yet and this can create additional problems for those studying in a new environment.
  4. Busy wards: Some apprenticeships are being created in areas where ward time for medical and other healthcare students is already hard to come by and there are more students on the wards than doctors. In those environments, it may create problems to add additional students and this can impact the learning you can do.

Entry requirements

One big advantage that many of you will be interested to hear about is that there is currently no mention of use of the UCAT during this selection process, meaning that those with low UCAT scores are eligible to apply.

Besides this, entry requirements will vary by programme but are expected to include grades around ABB/AAB, a previous 2.1 degree in a relevant field (for graduate entry programmes) and a pass for core GCSE subjects. It is unclear which programmes, if any, will be open to undergraduates and what entry requirements will be expected for them. However, due to the highly competitive nature of these programmes, it is likely that successful applicants far exceed the stated entry requirements.

Some programmes will also require you to currently be working in the trust you are applying to which poses geographical restrictions. All programmes currently being planned are located in England.

Application Process

Application processes will differ by trust but should follow one of two pathways.

  1. An internal application process: The position will be filled by applicants within the trust (this is especially popular for pilot programmes which are just starting out and have few places available)
  2. A job posting on the NHS job website or the Government’s ‘Find An Apprenticeship’ page: An official job posting is published which allows all applicants with suitable qualifications to apply.

All applicants, however, will apply to a trust rather than a medical school and will then be processed through a university partnership rather than UCAS if their application and subsequent interview is successful. However, it is important to keep in mind that you will still need to fulfil the minimum entry requirements posted by the employer.

It is important to note that for the pilot of these programmes, admissions may have followed a different structure and that applications for and admissions into these programmes will depend on the NHS trusts running them as well.

Integration with traditional pathways

Once their training is complete, medical doctor apprentices will take the same exam that all final-year medical students have to take – the Medical Licensing Assessment (or MLA) and from there on join the same pathway that all those on a traditional route follow. This will include entering foundation training and becoming a foundation-year doctor. Being a medical student apprentice will not disadvantage you in this process and will not influence which medical specialties you are able to pursue in the future, although, as with all universities, some programmes may place more or less emphasis on certain sub-specialities.

Long-term viability

One question which gets asked a lot is whether these programmes are viable to sustain in the long term as they are expected to be costly and labour-intensive programmes, as well as being an entirely new approach to medical school teaching. It remains to be seen if these programmes will reach the expected results but they may be particularly attractive options to train those who already have a prior degree and experience in the healthcare field rather than school leavers.

We have explored some of the challenges that students may face but nonetheless, the applicant numbers in the first year indicate a strong interest in such programmes.

How much do medical doctor apprentices earn?

This is unclear but will vary by trust and job posting. There are rules to follow regarding minimum wage and apprenticeship pay which will influence how much trust will need to pay an apprentice but they may choose to pay in excess of that as well. Individual pay will be posted as apprenticeship positions in various trusts are published.

Will medical doctor apprentices earn the same qualification as a traditional medical degree?

Simply put – yes. All medical doctor apprentices will be awarded a medical degree at the end of their course. Since medical apprentices follow the same training standards as medical students on a traditional route they will be awarded the same degree by the corresponding university.

Where are the apprenticeships being run?

It is currently unknown which trusts will offer a Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship for 2025. However, it is expected that the programme in conjunction with the Anglia Ruskin University will continue and other universities have expressed interest in running such programmes. For more information, you can check the NHS Jobs website for job postings or the Find An Apprenticeship page of the UK government website.

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