Students interested in a future career in healthcare or postgraduate research are often split between a BSc in Biochemistry or Biomedical Sciences.
The two subjects offer nearly identical modules and often have similar career prospects; they are however quite different.
One of them aims to give a generalist view of the human body in health and disease, and the other aims to build on foundational chemistry knowledge while focusing on topics such as molecular and cell biology.
Both degrees have a focus on cultivating good laboratory practice and developing transferable skills in a research setting.
But which is better? Biomedical science, or biochemistry?
What to expect in a biomedical science degree?
In a biomedical science degree, you will learn about medical science and how it can be used to research and treat bodily diseases.
As part of this, you will learn about the normal functioning of the body, and how a disease can occur when normal physiology is affected.
You will also gain experience within a laboratory setting, learning how to perform basic laboratory protocols using common laboratory equipment.
The biomedical science course is usually 3 year.
In the first year, the lectures are spent bringing everyone up to speed on the usual biology content such as immunology, human physiology, cell biology and basic biochemistry. All these modules will be introductory.
The modules start to become more focused and in-depth. You will begin building upon your year 1 knowledge and most likely undertaking more complex lab practicals in preparation for your final year project in year 3.
Your exam content will also shift from multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in year 1 to 50% MCQ and 50% essays in year 2.
In the third year, you will be undertaking your final year project along with some elective modules. This will give you specialised knowledge in biochemistry, cancer biology, haematology and microbiology.
This year contributes the most towards your final grade and is usually the shortest since you are mostly focusing on one speciality.
What to expect in Biochemistry degree?
Biochemistry is a degree that teaches students about the chemical processes occurring within living organisms.
It is very similar to biomedical sciences in that you have to study core modules such as genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology.
The emphasis, however, is on biomolecules and their chemical interactions, and as such, there is a large chemistry component to this degree.
The degree also focuses on providing students with laboratory practice using a large array of equipment for diagnosing samples, testing chemical components in a sample, creating biomolecules, and making organic molecules via various chemical techniques.
In the first year, like biomedical science, the lectures are spent bringing everyone up to speed on the foundational principles of chemistry, but also the usual biology content such as cell biology, microbiology, and basic biochemistry.
In the second year, the modules become more focused and can include topics like genes and genomics, molecular biochemistry, and protein science.
Lab practicals will become more challenging and involved, and a generally deeper understanding of biology will be required in year 2.
Your exam content will also shift from multiple-choice questions (MCQs) in year 1, to 50% MCQ and 50% essays in year 2.
You may take optional modules such as applied biochemistry and biotechnology in year 2.
In the third year, you will be undertaking your final year project. You will also have a wider range of elective modules to choose from.
This year contributes the most towards your final grade and is usually the shortest.
Which is harder?
They’re both challenging but probably biochemistry
Both degrees are very challenging. Most student who do such degrees and move on to medical degrees will tell you their bioscience degree was probably more challenging!
Deciding to undertake biomedical science or biochemistry is a big decision since most students will find all three years to be relatively difficult.
What makes it so difficult is the sheer amount of content you have to cover over each semester and the fact that you have to recall all that information when taking the exam.
For the first year, you can squeeze through guessing MCQs but in the second year when exams are starting to get essay based, you can be asked to write an in-depth essay on the first lecture you took in the year, which most students would find hellish.
To answer your question, Biochemistry is probably the harder subject.
Biochemistry requires good foundational chemistry whereas Biomedical doesn’t
The sheer amount of foundational chemistry needed is a lot, and combined with the already in-depth biology knowledge you have to memorise, it is definitely the more challenging course.
Not to mention you may have to study aspects of plant biology since it isn’t a medically geared course.
Biomedical science on the other hand, while very challenging, doesn’t have nearly the same amount of in-depth chemistry knowledge.
You won’t have to memorise countless chemical pathways, plant biology, or have a significant foundational chemistry knowledge.
This, on the other hand, means biochemistry graduates will have a more foundational and practical scientific and chemical knowledge, whereas Biomed graduates will have in-depth knowledge of medical science, but possibly lack foundational scientific knowledge.
you can specialise in Biochemistry while doing a Biomed degree
Students may choose to specialise in biochemistry in their third year if they want to combat this issue and gain more specialist knowledge in foundational chemistry and biomolecules.
This is personally what I chose to do as it gave me a deeper understanding of biochemistry and the chemical reactions that can occur in the body. You’re somewhat getting the best of both worlds.
Which takes longer?
They’re both 3 years long usually
Both BSc degrees are 3 years. Both, however, have options to undertake an integrated master’s program which is 4 years.
Usually, this is accredited by the institute of biology, however, some biomedical science courses are accredited by the institute of biomedical science (IBMS).
They both have the option of placement years
You may also choose to study biochemistry with a placement year, which is also 4 years.
The third-year being the year where you undergo an industry placement, learning specific biochemistry principles during your stay.
With the biomedical science degree, students may choose to study on the healthcare science degree instead.
This is identical to the biomedical science degree, except, in the second year you will start a term-time placement in a lab.
At the end of the degree, you will graduate with your Biomed counterparts, only you will also have a completed IBMS portfolio that allows you to practice as a biomedical scientist. This pathway is also for 3 years.
Which has better job prospects?
I wrote an article about the job prospects for biomedical scientists. They aren’t great.
They both require you to take on further study
Much of the healthcare roles for performing lab test can and are given to apprentices that are already trained to perform these basic tasks.
Training up a biomedical science graduate to get IBMS certification is often time-consuming and at the end of the day, the jobs aren’t exactly abundant.
Unfortunately, this also goes for biochemistry.
You may be able to get an introductory role at a company, running batch experiments on samples and doing writeups on results. But this is quite hard to find without connections, and will usually involve you relocating to another city for work.
I always advise bioscience graduates to make use of their university connections.
Leverage your university contacts
Get in contact with your personal tutor or faculty staff members because they are always in need of assistance with research in their own labs.
These are the people who have connections to the pharmaceutical companies and can ask for academic grants so make use of them and work with them.
A letter of recommendation goes a long way.
You might even get asked to help with a few sessions which may lead to a job as an academic researcher for your own institution down the line.
Which pays more?
Neither. You will probably be making the same when you first start. This is around £22,000.
Later down the line when you specialise, biochemists are projected to make up to £10,000 more than their biomedical science counterparts every year.
This is due to their chemistry background and the potential to pivot into chemical and pharmaceutical markets.
Which is more enjoyable?
From a purely scientific aspect, most students will say a biomedical science degree is probably more enjoyable since you aren’t expected to memorise as much core scientific knowledge such as metabolic reactions and chemical structure of common biomolecules.
A biochemist however probably enjoys such tasks and would find simply memorising the names of muscles, the pathogenesis of disease, or human physiology mind-numbingly boring.
To each their own.
Spoiler, biochemistry is probably better
They more or less teach the same thing, but biochemistry is more in-depth in its approach to core scientific principles and foundational chemistry.
Only take biochem if you have a solid chemistry background (at least a B at A-Level)
They both have similar career prospects, and most postgraduate courses open to Biomed will be open to biochem students.
The only real difference is students with a biochem background will have the added option of applying to chemistry postgraduate degrees, and therefore to chemistry-related internships which can land you pretty lucrative roles in the chemical industry.
You will also be graduating with a degree that generally considered more scientific and more challenging.
If you are still unsure about which courses to study, consider checking out my short course where I walk you through several life sciences courses and which ones to study in the future!