Becoming a doctor in France is not easy, and it’s a brave choice. Medical studies in France are known to be the most difficult and challenging studies of the country. The selection process for medical school is also rumored to be the toughest and most selective.
Before 2020 there was a first step with a national exam that allowed you to access med school. In reality, many students that failed this first step ended up going to Spain or Eastern European countries for their studies. For this reason, a national reform took place and completely amended medical studies.
In France, there are about thirty universities that allow you to study medicine.
Whether you are an American/Canadian citizen that completed high school in your home country or were already in France for high school, this article is for you. If you want precise details on the general application process to French universities, check out our article on this topic as it applies to med school too!
First and foremost, let’s have a look at the three ways you can access medicine studies in France.
French Equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree with a Health Major: the PASS
This diploma, called “licence” in French is composed of three years of study where you major in a health field and minor in another field.
The classes are the basic fundamentals of medicine: chemistry, physics, statistics, human and social sciences.
Indeed, you must choose a minor in another discipline or field of study. This aims to facilitate your professional reorientation in case you realize med school is not for you and wish to change your career path.
The most important thing to know about the PASS is that you are not allowed to fail a year and repeat it again. So it’s a win-or-lose situation, meaning that you either succeed the first year of PASS and continue to the second year or you fail your PASS. In the second case, you will either be obliged to pursue studies in the minor you chose, or completely change your field of study.
Regular Bachelor’s Degree with a Minor in Health
The second option to access medical studies is to do a licence in another field of study such as law, economics, history, chemistry etc. and do a minor in health. This is called LAS in French, and it means licence avec option accès santé which is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree with an option to access health studies.
Once you feel ready, either in the first, second, or third year of your bachelor’s degree, you can pass the admissibility exams for the second year of medical school, pharmacy, or dental school. You are allowed to try the medicine school entrance exams twice.
The Medical Assistant Bridge
The third and final way to access medical studies is to prepare the three-year diploma to become a medical assistant through a professional nursing school. Once you graduate, you can try the admissibility exams to enter the second year of med school.
However, spots are limited in med school when you wish to access with the “Medical Assistant Bridge” and every year they are determined by universities and regional health agencies so you must be on the lookout for the limited number of free spots.
Once you enter med school, there are three major cycles/steps to consider in your medical career in France:
The First Cycle: the Basics of Medicine Studies
Once you are admitted to med school, there is a first cycle composed of two years (second and third year of med school) that aims to teach students the science fundamentals and basics required to become a doctor.
Some topics studied are semiology, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, notions of pathology, pharmacy, and bacteriology.
The are some optional topics such as science philosophy, medical English, history of medicine, or medical computer science.
Parallel to these studies you need to pursue a full-time nursing internship of four weeks duration at the beginning of the cycle. Afterwards, throughout the cycle, you must pursue twelve weeks of internships in local hospitals in general services or more specialized such as the emergency room, dermatology, cardiology and so on.
At the end of the third year, students graduate and obtain a diploma called DFGSM, diplôme de formation Générale en sciences médicales, which is the same level as a standard bachelor’s degree.
The Second Cycle: Clinical Practice and In-Depth Study
The second cycle, called “externat” in French is composed of the 4th, 5th and 6th year of studies in med school. This cycle allows you to have a complete medical training focused on pathologies, their therapeutics and prevention methods. Topics studied in this cycle are geriatrics, locomotor devices, neurology, pediatrics, and oncology.
At this stage, med school students are both students and employees of the hospital and touch salaries depending on their level.
Bear in mind that some internships are mandatory (plastic surgery, emergency room) and others are optional. Throughout this cycle, students must do a total of 25 night shifts at the hospital, mainly in the emergency room.
To go to the next stage, there is an admission procedure that includes several exams such as structured clinical exams during the internships or simulations.
Students must make a list with their “wishes” for their medical specialty and they will only be affected in the specialty of their choice if their national ranking is high enough. Each specialty has a limited number of spots and depending on the specialty, the rank may need to be higher or lower. For example, for the 2022-2023 session, there were 27 spots in neurosurgery against 3,388 spots in general medicine.
At the end of the 6th year, students graduate and are granted a DFASM diploma which stands for diplôme de formation approfondie en sciences médicales, which is the equivalent of a standard Master’s degree.
Final Step: Choosing your Specialty
In total, there are 44 medicine specialties: 13 surgical (gynecology, vascular surgery…), 30 medical (psychiatry, pneumonology, radiology, medical imagery…), and medical biology.
If you want to specialize in general medicine, the third cycle is three years long whilst it can be between 4-6 years for other specialties.
The third cycle is also divided in three stages:
-one year of fundamentals studied in the first two cycles,
-one or two years of in-depth studies to become autonomous as a future doctor,
-one or two years of consolidation where you will be placed under a junior doctor status, and under the supervision of a senior doctor.
This stage is called “interne” and during this cycle, students do semestrial internships and they prepare a thesis.
After finishing and validating your internships, classes and thesis, students graduate with a doctor diplome (“DE de docteur en médecine”) and a specialized diploma called DES, of their chosen specialty.
Taking the med school path is definitely an admirable choice due to the length of the academic career.
All we can say is that in the end, it will all be worth it and if there’s one thing that everyone will always need, it’s a good doctor!
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
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