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How to get into Medicine in South Africa

by Hannah Maidment

Getting into medical school in South Africa is notoriously difficult, but there are more ways to do it than going straight from high school into a medical degree. This article will give you a breakdown of the different methods you can use to get into medicine.

Medicine is an extremely popular study choice for newly matriculated students and South African universities are receiving thousands of applications for their Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MB.ChB) programmes every year. But there are simply not enough places for everyone. Unfortunately, due to the physical infrastructure needed to train doctors, it’s not easy to simply create more places. This makes it really tough to get in, but it’s not impossible.

If studying medicine is something that you really want to do, it’s worth learning about the different ways you can go about achieving this goal. And that’s what we’re here for.

There are two main ways that people get into medicine in South Africa:

For someone who’s sure they want to become a doctor, this is the optimal choice. Due to limited space and strict quotas that need to be met, getting a place in these courses is extremely difficult. It is not, however, impossible to get in and, luckily, the universities are pretty transparent with their selection criteria and how they choose who they accept.

To get into these courses, you need to have exceptional academic results during high school and you also need to have done really well in your NBT’s. But your academic performance is not all that universities consider when they are selecting students for their medical programmes. They also look at non-academic performance areas like leadership, sports, work experience within the healthcare profession and social awareness.

Here is a breakdown of what some of South Africa’s most popular universities look at in your application:





NSC Results




NBT Results




Non-academic Performance




The universities account for quotas by having lower selection criteria for previously disadvantaged students. While these breakdowns are only for three universities, they give you an idea of what you need to focus on. Both high school and NBT results are exceptionally important, but your extracurricular activities might be able to give your application the boost that it needs.

This option also applies to those who have decided to take a gap year and then study medicine.

Starting with a more general BSc

Like any degree, medical degrees have students who drop out. This means that places open up and in order to take advantage of this, students who do not get into medicine on their first try start studying a more general BSc with very similar subjects to the MB.ChB. This is also an option for students who did not meet the minimum requirements to apply to medicine in matric. They do this in the hope that they will be able to transfer to the medical degree halfway through their first year or at the beginning of their second year. This process is facilitated by the universities and often you’ll be able to transfer to medicine without having to add extra time to your degree.

Being allowed to transfer to medicine is based on your academic performance while doing the BSc at university. Universities will typically tell you how many places will be available and what kind of marks you will need in order to transfer to medicine. This gives you clear goals to work towards during your first few months at university. While this process is also extremely competitive, it gives you an idea of what kind of work you will be doing and it’ll give you the chance to confirm that medicine is really what you want to study before you’ve committed to a 6-year degree.

Starting your MBChB straight after high school

This option will allow you to cut straight to the chase and get going with your studies in medicine.  However, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements and there will need to be space to accommodate you in the programme in the year you would like to study.  This is quite a competitive programme so space is, generally, limited at every institution.  The MBChB programme is six years at all South African institutions with the exception of the University of Free State (UFS) which is a five-year qualification.  This depends on whether you don’t need to re-do any of your subjects.

After completing your qualification, you will need to do a two-year internship and a year of community service – you will be placed somewhere in the country by the government.  During this time, you will be compensated and after completing your community service and internship, you will be a qualified General Practice Doctor.  If you would like to specialise, you will need to study further.

Another option…

At Wits, the medical faculty has a bachelor of health sciences specifically for students who narrowly missed entry into the medical degree. The best of these students are then able to transfer to the medical degree after their third year. This programme is called the Graduate Entry Medical Programme (GEMP). Through the GEMP, you’re also able to apply to the third year of medicine if you’ve already completed a relevant undergraduate degree. This means that you add an extra year onto your studies, but you finish with 2 bachelor’s degrees after the seven years. For more information about the GEMP, read this article.

Two of these options take exactly the same amount of time, while the other adds a year onto your studies. You have the freedom to choose the method that suits you best, but the selection process to get into these degrees is extremely competitive, no matter which option you choose.

The road to becoming a doctor is long and requires a lot of hard work, but if it’s something you are passionate about, it’s definitely worth it. If you’re unsure about whether or not it is for you, read this student account to get a better idea of what studying medicine is really like.

EduConnect 2Cents

The Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MB.ChB) is not the only degree in the medical field and being a doctor is not the only job. If you are interested in the medical field, but you’re not sure you want to become a doctor, have a look at other professions in the medical field.

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