Trying to pick which premed pathway is best for you? Here’s my tips to picking what may suit you best!
As you all probably know, BSc majoring in Biomedical Sciences (aka Biomed) and BHSc in first year both lead to clinical programmes such as medicine, pharmacy, optometry and medical imaging. However, there are some major differences between the two programmes which become more obvious as the year progresses. Rather than regretting the uninformed decision you may make, let me try and break down the differences between Biomed and BHSc in the most unbiased way I can!
BSc Majoring in Biomedical Science
BSc majoring in Biomedical Science, also known as Biomed, is perhaps the more common of the two premed/pre-clinical pathways. There’s anywhere between 600–1000 students (perhaps even more!) per year which makes navigating through OGGB very chaotic.
The first difference between Biomed and BHSc that you may notice straight off the bat is that the former is actually a specialisation as part of a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree (although it’s taught in conjunction with FMHS), whereas Health Science (BHSc) is a whole separate degree on it’s own. This isn’t really a big deal unless you plan to continue with one or the other (which I’ll explain a little bit later!).
Biomed is definitely the more ‘sciencey’ of the two, requiring a good foundation in biology and chemistry in order to do well. Physics may also be required for some of the electives as well as the compulsory physics paper in first year. This specialisation is also great if you are looking to go into medical research, pharmaceuticals and even veterinary science.
Now, let me give you a quick rundown of what Biomed kind of looks like!
In first year Biomed, you will take 8 papers overall. The breakdown looks something like this (the papers in BOLD are what are needed for clinical entry):
- BIOSCI 101 (for optometry and medical imaging)
- BIOSCI 106 (for optometry and medical imaging)
- MEDSCI 142
- PHYS 160 (for optometry and medical imaging)
While BIOSCI 107, CHEM 110, POPLHLTH 111 and MEDSCI 142 are all needed for entry into MBChB and BPharm, BIOSCI 101, BIOSCI 106 and PHYS 160 are additional papers you take that will give you the opportunity to apply for BOptom and BMedImag (Hons) as well!
Getting Into Biomed
If you are applying for Biomed straight out of high school, you will need a rank score of 280 for NCEA, 310 for CIE and 33 for IB. It’s also extremely difficult to get a fast track offer for so please be patient! Also, there are no subjects you absolutely have to take in high school, but I would recommend doing at least L2 Biology, L3 Chemistry and Physics so you can keep up better with the content!
For transferring into Biomed, nobody exactly knows the GPA requirements, but I think from a Reddit post I saw, people with a B average (5.0) from their previous degree can transfer in with no problems. However, this can be quite hard to get into as the places first need to be allocated to high school leavers.
Beyond First Year
Biomed leads to four clinical programmes after first year:
- Medicine (MBChB)
- Pharmacy (BPharm)
- Optometry (BOptom)
- Medical Imaging (BMedImag (Hons))
If you choose to continue with Biomed, you’ll either get to do a general pathway or select a prescribed pathway made up of papers you must take to fulfil these requirements. The pathways include:
- Anatomical Imaging Science
- Cancer Biology and Therapeutics
- Cardiovascular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Biomedicine
- Infection and Immunity
- Nutrition and Metabolism
- Reproduction and Development
Biomed also leads to potential careers in scientific industries or the health sector. Many graduates end up doing further study and become leaders in their research field. There are also a number of postgraduate options including:
- Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours)
- Master of Biomedical Science
- Postgraduate Diploma in Biomedical Science
Pros vs. Cons
- Leads to BOptom and BMedImag (Hons) as well as MBChB and BPharm
- You don’t have to take a Table A subject, nor do you have to do any particular subject in high school to apply for Biomed
- Great for people who absolutely love all three sciences
- Not many assignments or essay writing (just lab reports which are quite easy)
- More opportunities for lab work and practical skill development
- More helpful in the first years of a clinical programme (i.e. before placements)
- Numerous pathways to continue with after Biomed
- Very easy to transfer to another science major after first year
- Very competitive environment (some say it’s worse than BHSc but I honestly have no idea)
- Very science heavy, so may not be the best option for everyone
- Timetable is a lot more stressful in Semester 2 compared to BHSc (since they don’t have any additional ‘cores’ for BOptom or BMedImag (Hons))
- Difficult to transfer from Biomed to BHSc
- No opportunities for a conjoint or double major
- Harder to get into from high school and as a current undergraduate student
- Need to take all three sciences in high school in order to have a good foundation
Is Biomed Right For Me?
Use this handy checklist to see if you’re a Biomedder at heart!
Bachelor of Health Sciences (BHSc)
I’ve already given a detailed overview of the BHSc degree here, but if you just want a quick overlook I’ll break it down for you!
Like I mentioned previously, BHSc is it’s entirely own degree (not a major or specialisation) part of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (BHSc). I’ll explain more about the pathways later, but basically the only ‘major’ you can take within BHSc is Population Health.
Compared to Biomed, BHSc is less science based overall (misleading name, I know). It actually focuses more on the social side of health through a social justice and humanities lens. Most of the content you learn in Health Science will be things you’ve never actually looked at before, however, it can be good to have a general idea of the social inequities that exist in New Zealand (although it’s not necessary at all!). There is also a smaller cohort of approximately 400 students compared to Biomed.
In your first year of BHSc, you will take 8 papers overall. The breakdown looks something like this (the papers in BOLD are what are needed for clinical entry):
Because there’s no BIOSCI 101, 106 or PHYS 160, you cannot enter optometry or medical imaging from this pathway. The only options available are MBChB and BPharm.
Getting Into BHSc
If you are applying for BHSc from high school, a rank score of 250 for NCEA, 300 for CIE and 33 for IB. Fast track offers are more common so even if you’re wanting to do Biomed, I suggest applying for BHSc too so you can enrol ASAP! Although there is a lower rank score compared to Biomed, there are the Table A and Table B subject requirements. Make sure you take one of each (English/History etc. for Table A and Maths/Sciences etc. for Table B) to fulfil these requirements!
As a current undergraduate students, those of Maori/Pacific descent are welcome to apply for the Certificate in Health Sciences to prepare for their first year of BHSc. The GPA requirements for transferring into BHSc from another programme can also be lower than going to Biomed. However, nobody really knows for sure what the GPA requirements are.
Beyond First Year
After first year, BHSc only leads to medicine and pharmacy. However, you can choose to continue the degree for another two years. Similarly to Biomed, you can do a general pathway or select a optional prescribed pathway. However, it’s not as rigid as Biomed so you can choose whatever papers you like within the schedule. The pathways include:
- Health Promotion
- Mental Health and Addictions
- Food, Environments and Population Health (formerly Population Health Nutrition)
- Health Systems
- Digital Health (formerly Health Information and Analysis)
BHSc can lead to a number of non-clinical careers such as being a health promoter, health economist and policy analyst. Postgraduate programmes may include an additional honours year in BHSc, or a Masters degree in Health Science, Health Leadership, Public Health and Health Practice (to name a few!).
Pros vs. Cons
- If you’re only focusing on getting into medicine or pharmacy, the non-cores are way less stressful than taking BIOSCI 101, 106 and PHYS 160
- Nicer, supportive environment (I guess it’s what you make of it though?) due to a smaller cohort with different passions
- Less emphasis on science
- Timetable structure is more chill, especially since there’s only one core in Semester 2 (MEDSCI 142)
- Opportunities for doing a conjoint
- Lower rank score and easy to transfer into from most health-related/science degrees
- No opportunities to get into optometry or medical imaging
- Lots of essay writing and working in groups
- Less development of lab/clinical-related skills
- Course organisation not as great as in BSc
Is BHSc Right For Me?
Use this handy checklist to see if BHSc is right for you!
Other Pathways to Clinical Degrees
Contrary to popular belief, BHSc and Biomed aren’t the only way to do a clinical programme at UoA! These all take a longer amount of time than just going through the first year route, but sometimes the journey towards them can be more rewarding!
If you choose to continue with Biomed or BHSc after first year, you can reapply for MBChB at the end of your degree (via Graduate Entry). There is a smaller intake of these candidates compared to first year students (generally) but it all depends on how good your cumulative GPA (usually above 8), MMI and UCAT is. There are rumours that the Graduate Entry pathway will soon become the only pathway that you can take to reach MBChB, so it might actually increase your chances to go down this route in years to come*. You would have already taken the four core papers in first year as well as have good background knowledge that will help you succeed in MBChB and are relevant to the papers you will study later on.
There is another ‘branch’ of the Graduate Entry pathway you may want to explore as well. If competition and stress from first year Biomed BHSc is freaking you out, you can actually choose an entirely different degree (or just go non-clinical in Biomed or BHSc in first year) from any NZ university and still gain entry into med later on! For example, you could finish your last year of a BMus (music) degree, sit the UCAT and MMI in the same year, apply for MBChB and make it in! However, there is a slight catch. You will need to sit the four premed papers in the year following gaining at least a ‘B’ in all to be eligible. Given that first year often requires you to aim for A+ in all four papers, gaining a B (in my personal opinion) is way more manageable. Therefore keep this in mind if you don’t think first year Biomed/BHSc is for you, or you just want to try something new before diving into med!
*This is only speculation! If you want more information click here to view a Reddit thread discussing this topic
For BPharm, you don’t necessarily have to do Biomed or BHSc to be eligible after first year. You can apply from BSc in Food Science and Nutrition, Medicinal Chemistry, Pharmacology, Physiology or Exercise Sciences, or any other BSc major that requires you to take the four core papers.
There is also an Alternative Admissions process for students who have been studying at a tertiary level for 2+ years. A minimum GPA of 4.0 is required to be shortlisted for the MMI and both will be used to rank and offer you a place. This means you can apply multiple times for BPharm over the course of your current degree whenever you like!
Like the other clinical Bachelor degrees, you are able to apply from a completely unrelated degree (however in this case you can do it after two years and not graduate from what you’re studying at that time), provided that you do the four core papers after you are given conditional entry.
BOptom and BMedImag (Hons)
Both BOptom and BMedImag (Hons) allow you to apply directly from first year health science (FYHS) at the University of Otago, provided that you have a good GPA and MMI. Graduate entry similar to the MBChB requirements is also available, provided that you do complete BIOSCI 101, 106 and PHYS 160 once you gain conditional entry (or equivalent).
Master of Audiology (MAud) is a clinical degree that is only available to postgraduate students. Successful applicants will have a GPA of at least 5 (although a ‘safe’ GPA looks anywhere between 7.5–8) and a good MMI score.
The only degree requirement from your Bachelors is that you have come from a relevant field. This may include health science, public health, science, physiology and/or psychology.
MHSc in Nutrition and Dietetics
Master of Health Science in Nutrition and Dietetics requires a degree in food science, nutrition or equivalent. In UoA, this would be BSc in Food Science and Nutrition (Nutrition pathway). 15 places are reserved for UoA students in this programme who submit an expression of interest form after 2nd year. Like the other clinical programmes listed above, entry is based on your cumulative GPA and your MMI score.
Going Psycho(logy)’s POV
To get a broad overview of what my thoughts are on each pathway, I’ll break them down into some FAQs:
Why Did You Pick BHSc Over Biomed?
I explained in a little bit more detail in my Choosing My Degree for Me post. However, most of it came down to what I preferred to study and where my strengths lie. After high school I was pretty set on either doing medicine or pharmacy and no other clinical programme. However, if I ended up changing my mind or not making it in, I would prefer to do something in public health than lab work and research.
I also knew that while I was good at Biology and Chemistry in high school, I was very hopeless at Physics (after dropping it in L2), so I really didn’t want to do any of it at all. The non-core papers of BHSc appealed to me as it was pretty similar to what my history teacher touched on in History and I knew that essay writing was a strength of mine.
Unbiased Opinion — Which is Actually Better?
It is totally up to the individual to decide what pathway is best for them to succeed in gaining entry in the clinical programme of their choice. Biomed is great for those who love science and don’t want to do anything else whereas BHSc is good for those who want to learn more about the different aspects of the health sector.
From my own experience in FYHS, I think Biomed seemed a lot more stressful because of the papers in Semester 2. If you are aiming for any of the clinical programmes, you want to make sure you get as high of a GPA you can as possible. This meant that the Biomed students had to divide their attention up between BIOSCI 101, 106, PHYS 160 and MEDSCI 142 as evenly as possible. On the other hand, BHSc students only had MEDSCI 142 to worry about as their core paper as you only needed to maintain a B+ average overall in the non-cores. This is definitely a plus for BHSc as MEDSCI is easily the hardest paper of the lot and the less distractions from it to get into med, the better.
However a plus of Biomed is the number of clinical programmes you can apply for after first year because of those extra cores they do. BHSc only has the option of MBChB and BPharm after first year which can feel limiting depending on the GPA that you may have.
Do You Have Any Regrets?
I adore BHSc and I’m glad I chose it in the first place and that I get to continue with it alongside BSc in Psychology next year. However, I won’t lie — I did have some doubts about it during the year.
My main concern was the fact I couldn’t apply for medical imaging or optometry after first year. I felt as though I had a good enough GPA for both programmes if I ended up doing Biomed instead but I didn’t get the opportunity to explore this avenue. However, remembering that I could apply after I finish my degree did give me some comfort that I would only have to cross the bridge of BIOSCI 101, 106 and PHYS 160 if I ever came to it.
Another ‘regret’ that I had was the fact I didn’t even know I could apply from a completely unrelated degree after I had graduated! Nobody talks about this option enough which is why it’s so important to bring it up. I would’ve considered my options entirely differently if I knew about it beforehand so I felt confident in maximising my GPA.
I hope this very long blog has given you a better insight into choosing a pathway for a clinical degree. I definitely wish I had something like this before making any decisions, but hey, if I help one person, then I’m happy :))
Make sure you weigh out all your options and pick what you think suits you best — don’t feel like you have to follow your friends because this is all about YOUR future.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com and I’ll try help you out!
Stay safe, stay healthy and stay happy!
Going Psycho(logy) ^.^