MBBS Degree vs. MD Degree: A Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Compared to the MD degree in the US, becoming a doctor involves a different degree pathway for commonwealth students.

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In commonwealth countries, such as Great Britain and India, students who want to study medicine and become a doctor earn their MBBS degree, which stands for Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Science. MBBS is a professional undergraduate degree that students can begin after finishing their secondary education. 

An MBBS degree is equivalent to an MD degree in the United States, which is a professional degree you earn after first completing your bachelor’s degree. With the MBBS, you do not need to earn a traditional bachelor’s degree. Instead, you will gain a medical education from your degree program before completing additional training (called the Foundation Programme in the UK) and finishing with either general practice or specialty training.

The process for applying to an MBBS program and becoming a doctor differs from what medical students face in the US. In this article, we’ll review key facts about the MBBS degree, how it compares to an MD degree in the US, and what you can do with the degree. 

MBBS degree: Key facts

The MBBS is usually a five-year undergraduate degree that commonwealth students complete when they want to become a doctor. However, some programs take six years to complete because the institution expects you to earn a Bachelor of Science (BSc) as part of your training. 

By the time a student applies to a medical program, they have likely taken several foundational science courses as part of their high school (or secondary) education. For example, in the UK, medical applicants are often expected to show high scores on both their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSEs) and A-levels. 

Earning an MBBS means that students are certified to care for patients as junior physicians but do not have any specialized training. Graduates are expected to complete two years of additional training, which rotates them through different specialties. Once they identify a specialty they like, they can apply for additional training, which can take anywhere between three and eight years.  

MBBS coursework

Many medical programs follow a progressive education that begins with classroom training before moving into practical clinical training. Over the course of your first and second year (and, in some programs, your third), you can expect to learn about patients’ health needs and how to care for them. 

Some common themes you may encounter throughout your initial time in an MBBS program include: 

  • Basic medical sciences 

  • Patients and populations

  • Life cycle

  • Life support

  • Population health 

  • Professionalism and ethics

  • Professional skills

  • Communication principles for effective health care

While each program differs, in a five-year program, your final two or three years tend to focus on transitioning you into practice. During this time, you may get the opportunity to begin learning about specialties—like psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, or neurology—and completing an internship or assistantship to gain real-world experience. 

Medical specialties with an MBBS

After you have earned your MBBS degree and completed the required additional training, you either have the option of training to become a general practitioner or studying a specific area of medicine—called a specialty. 

The length of your training will depend on your program. In the UK, general practitioner training takes three years, while other specialties take between five and eight years. 

Common specialties include: 

  • Allergy and immunology 

  • Cardiology

  • Emergency medicine

  • Internal medicine

  • Neurology

  • Obstetrics and gynecology 

  • Pediatrics

  • Pulmonology

MBBS vs. MD

MBBS graduates are considered qualified doctors who can treat basic health matters, while they continue acquiring additional training. In that regard, they are similar to MD graduates in the US, who are expected to complete a three-year residency after finishing medical school. 

In the US, the path to becoming a doctor often begins as an undergraduate. Many students choose a medical major or one in the natural sciences to gain a foundational knowledge before applying to medical school. They must also take the MCAT entrance exam. 

Given how competitive med school can be, some students enroll in a postbaccalaureate program after earning their bachelor’s to improve their grades, better prepare to take the MCAT, and overall strengthen their chances of being accepted.

Once accepted to med school, it typically takes four years to earn an MD degree. As students prepare to graduate, they begin applying for a three-year residency at teaching universities and hospitals around the country. Once “matched” with a program, they take their state’s licensing exam so they can begin practicing medicine as part of their residency program. 

Length of time to become a doctor

It takes about 11 years to become a general practitioner in the US, from undergraduate to residency. UK students, on the other hand, will take eight years to complete all requirements, from MBBS to general practice (GP) training. However, it can take much longer (two to five additional years) to become a specialist.

MD academic degrees

In Great Britain and other commonwealth countries, an MD is an academic degree known as a Doctor of Medicine that takes two years of full-time study to earn. Before applying, students often must have clinical training. They will be expected to conduct original research and write an original thesis.  

Can US students apply to MBBS programs?

The short answer is: yes. But the requirements for each university differ. If you’re interested in attending medical school outside of the US, it’s best to research the application requirements and contact the admissions office with any questions you may have as a prospective international student. If accepted, you may have to apply for a visa to study internationally.

It’s also worth noting that many commonwealth countries classify university fees into two categories, one for “home” students and one for “overseas” students. You may face higher fees as a result of your student status. 

MBBS degree in the US

MBBS graduates who are interested in practicing medicine in the US must usually complete a three-year residency to finish their training. You may need to apply for a visa before submitting your residency applications, and it’s recommended to apply to at least 25 residencies. 

MBBS degree alternatives 

When you are interested in working in health care, there are a number of advanced degrees you can earn if a medical degree doesn’t seem like the right choice or the time commitment isn’t feasible.  

  • Nursing: You can earn a nursing degree at many different levels, including associate, bachelor’s, maser’s, and doctorate. Learn more about how to get into nursing school. Nursing is a fast-growing career in the US with the potential for high-income. The median annual wage for a nurse practitioner, which requires a master’s in nursing, is $107,030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. 

  • Public health: Earning a master’s in public health can be an excellent way to move into senior roles dedicated to working with communities and other larger populations. Within public health, you can concentrate in one of several areas, such as physical health, epidemiology, or environmental health. Learn more about public health and what you can do in the field.

  • Social work: A master’s in social work is typically required to become a licensed clinical social worker and work with individual clients or groups to improve their mental health and well-being. Learn more about different social work degrees and the careers they can lead to. 

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Careers for nurses: Opportunities and options, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2020/article/careers-for-nurses-opportunities-and-options.htm.” Accessed September 1, 2022. 

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