Medical School @ Auckland University vs Otago University

I am interested in studying Medicine in New Zealand, but I’m unsure whether to go to The University of Auckland or The University of Otago - which should I choose?


I’m a 5th year medical student at The University of Auckland and have talked to several colleagues about the differences which I’ll summarise here.

Before I get into the differences, I’d like to point out how noticeably similar they are - both Auckland and Otago Medical Schools are highly respected across Australasia, producing well-rounded doctors for all of New Zealand in a 6 year degree catering to undergraduates and postgraduates alike. For this reason, the differences tend to be a matter of personal taste rather than one being significantly better than the other.

Difficulty of Getting in
This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get given the high bar for getting into medical school and the eagerness of students to get in. It is very difficult to assess this accurately given that a student can only go through one pathway, though the overall sentiment tends to be that Otago is very slightly easier - although this gap is closing in to be remarkably similar.

What’s more significant about getting in is the weightings at each University. Otago weights UMAT at 33% compared to Auckland at 15%, so my advice is usually for students to take UMAT in year 13, see how they go, and choose depending on their UMAT score if getting in is their highest priority in preference.

With regards to International Rankings of the Universities, Auckland has a slight edge over Otago, being ranked 70th in the World as opposed to Otago being in the 101-150 band. They both have great teaching, though Auckland does have slightly more world-leading researchers given it’s a major city, which is a likely explanation for the better ranking.

City Differences
This may seem obvious, but given the relatively minor differences between the medical schools themselves, it often becomes about which city you prefer living in. The choice is essentially between living in the big city life of Auckland and either living at home as a local or otherwise facing the expensive cost of accomodation, or living away from home in the student-centric Dunedin to enjoy a classic University student lifestyle.

Clinical Year Rotations
One of the major differences in how medical school is run in Auckland and Otago is how clinical rotations are done in years 4-6 of medical school.

In Auckland, each of the three years is spent at one site, with options consisting of the 3 Auckland Hospitals, Hamilton, Tauranga or Rotorua (there are a few other small North Island centres), where you have the opportunity to experience a variety of hospitals/locations through your training. For example, I spent year 4 in Auckland City Hospital, year 5 in Waikato Hospital and will be spending year 6 in North Shore Hospital - it’s a privilege to have such great exposure.

Students at Otago are placed in one of three options for all three years - Dunedin, Christchurch or Wellington. Many students originally living in one these cities are for this reason often attracted to Otago, and while you get very familiar and comfortable with one hospital, you get less exposure than that in Auckland.

This category applies to a small few, but for those it applies to, I would say it is the most significant factor. Both Universities offer prestigious scholarships, with the biggest two being The University of Auckland Scholarship (Value $20k) and The University of Otago Leaders of Tomorrow Scholarships ($30k). If you get a Scholarship at one University but not the other, I would strongly encourage attending that University - the prestige of these scholarships is invaluable, and while the money is nice, the prestige is a lot more worthwhile in the long run.

Hopefully this helps you in making a decision between the two NZ medical schools, and remember, there is no bad option out of these two - all the best!