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UCL Connected Curriculum Fellows



Are Intercalated Programmes Connected?

By Henry T Lancashire, on 9 February 2018

A programme or departmental level approach to UCL’s Connected Curriculum (CC) may miss the potential in some programmes. In particular, where students cross between departments or faculties, or choose from a very wide range of options. The integrated BSc (iBSc) programme builds research-focused teaching into the third year of the six-year UCL Medicine MBBS BSc programme; however, these 1-year programmes are run, taught, and examined separately from other MBBS BSc years.

“Active engagement with UCL’s Connected Curriculum means that students are encouraged to integrate this research intensive [iBSc] into their ongoing medical studies and across all modules taken during the year.”

UCL Introduction to iBScs.

UCL medical students choose from one of 18 iBScs run across six UCL faculties. The programmes emphasise in depth study of a subject and an extended research project. Integrated BSc programmes have been criticised for increasing the length and cost of already demanding medical degrees (1,2), in addition there is anecdotal evidence that students consider the iBSc as separate and less important than other MBBS BSc years. However, benefits have been reported for students with iBScs, including; increased involvement in research (2); a chance to develop in depth skills (3,4); higher marks in subsequent years (5–7); and improved career prospects (8,9).

Throughlines and Connections

Both the iBSc structure and the CC framework emphasise connections with research (10). This has been seen as important across subjects allied to medicine: the University of Edinburgh Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery programme uses research-led teaching in a Research Skills course during year 2 and students apply these skills for their own projects in years 3 and 5 (11); the undergraduate curriculum in biochemistry at the University of Alberta, Canada, has been developed with research practice in mind to allow students at all levels to engage with research and researchers (12); and UCL’s MSci Biochemistry degree has extended an existing 3-year programme by moving students to a research-focused stream after year 2 (13). However, as only a single year programme, to what extent can iBScs connect research with medical studies as a whole?

There are possible disconnects between the research focus behind iBScs and the reasons students undertake iBScs. Among prospective iBSc students engagement in research is not a top priority, ranked 10/12 in reasons to take an iBSc among students at the Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ School of Medicine, London, and by only 38% of respondents (2). In contrast 81% of prospective iBSc students cited improvements to career prospects as a reason to intercalate. Among students not choosing to intercalate lack of interest in research is a key reason (ranked 2/10). Agha and Howell comment that unawareness of the benefits of research experience, and lack of prior exposure to research, are problems which should be overcome to allow students to make informed choices about iBScs (2,9). Moreover, applying evidence-based medicine requires understanding how that evidence-base is arrived at, which requires an understanding of the research process (4,14).

Understanding Throughlines

This leaves the question:

Do students see connections between iBSc programmes and their continuing medical education?

By engaging students through focus groups I hope to compile students’ perceptions of the “enquiry throughline” in iBScs and how this does, or does not, link to pre- and post-iBSc medical studies.


1. Nicholson JA, Cleland J, Lemon J, Galley HF. Why medical students choose not to carry out an intercalated BSc: a questionnaire study. BMC Med Educ. 2010 Mar 23;10:25. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-10-25

2. Agha R, Howell S. Intercalated BSc degrees – why do students do them? Clin Teach. 2005 Dec 1;2(2):72–6. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-498X.2005.00059.x

3. Jones M, Singh S, Lloyd M. “It isn’t just consultants that need a BSc”: student experiences of an Intercalated BSc in Primary Health Care. Med Teach. 2005 Mar 1;27(2):164–8. https://doi.org/10.1080/01421590400019567

4. Greenhalgh T. Doing an intercalated BSc can make you a better doctor. Med Educ. 2003 Sep 1;37(9):760–1. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2923.2003.01603.x

5. Howman M, Jones M. Does undertaking an intercalated BSc influence first clinical year exam results at a London medical school? BMC Med Educ. 2011 Feb 3;11:6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-11-6

6. Cleland JA, Milne A, Sinclair H, Lee AJ. An intercalated BSc degree is associated with higher marks in subsequent medical school examinations. BMC Med Educ. 2009 May 19;9:24. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-9-24

7. Mahesan N, Crichton S, Sewell H, Howell S. The effect of an intercalated BSc on subsequent academic performance. BMC Med Educ. 2011 Oct 3;11:76. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-11-76

8. Fukaura R, Jones M. Are GP career intentions more prevalent in UCL Primary Health Care iBSc students? Br J Gen Pr. 2014 Feb 1;64(619):72–72. https://dx.doi.org/10.3399%2Fbjgp14X677077

9. Jones M, Hutt P, Eastwood S, Singh S. Impact of an intercalated BSc on medical student performance and careers: A BEME systematic review: BEME Guide No. 28. Med Teach. 2013 Oct 1;35(10):e1493–510. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2013.806983

10. Fung D. A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education [Internet]. London: UCL Press; 2017 [cited 2017 Dec 19]. 182 p. Available from: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781911576358

11. Boyd S, Gardiner A, Phillips C, Peterson J, Morton C, Brown F, et al. Foundation skills for veterinary medical research. In: Developing the Higher Education Curriculum [Internet]. London, UK: UCL Press; 2017. p. 75–88. Available from: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787350878

12. Milner R. Development of a connected curriculum in biochemistry at a large, research-​intensive university in Canada. In: Developing the Higher Education Curriculum [Internet]. London, UK: UCL Press; 2017. p. 31–45. Available from: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787350878

13. Townsend-​Nicholson A. Designing a throughline and a research-​culture in Biochemistry. In: Developing the Higher Education Curriculum [Internet]. London, UK: UCL Press; 2017. p. 238–9. Available from: https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787350878

14. Collins JP, Farish S, McCalman JS, McColl GJ. A mandatory intercalated degree programme: Revitalising and enhancing academic and evidence-based medicine. Med Teach. 2010 Dec 1;32(12):e541–6. https://doi.org/10.3109/0142159X.2010.528807

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