Brunel in talks over joint private medical school

March 4, 2005

Two universities look set to collaborate on Britain's first private medical school with a mission to improve selection processes and develop a better breed of junior doctor, The Times Higher can reveal.

Buckingham University launched plans for the groundbreaking medical school last year. Brunel University confirmed this week that it was seriously considering a partnership deal. This would be likely to involve two pathways for students: a four-year fast-track graduate medical course at Buckingham, and a broader biomedical science degree for undergraduates at Brunel.

Karol Sikora, the Harley Street doctor who will be dean of the new medical school, said: "When students finish their training now they are still like students, so there is no one to do the clinical care. This is a reflection of the fact that much medical education happens around a desk or in problem-based learning seminars."

Instead, he is keen to bring back the "immersion experience", putting students into hospital emergency departments for a week at a time and expecting them to behave like fully fledged doctors.

He is confident that there will be no problem finding enough UK and international students - even at £20,000 a year - because graduate places are extremely oversubscribed. In 2003, only one in five suitably qualified graduates was able to secure a place at a British medical school.

Professor Sikora is determined to revolutionise the recruitment process. He said: "When you think how much we invest in training doctors, it is alarming that selection comes from A levels and, if you are lucky, a ten-minute interview."

The medical school will have a two-day residential assessment centre for potential students that will assess qualities such as maturity and commitment to medicine. Students will need a good biological or health sciences degree and proven success in the workplace.

Possible candidates might include accountants, lawyers and young scientists who can't stomach an insecure career in academic research.

But David Gordon, chair of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "Blanket statements from Karol Sikora simply criticising the current system are fundamentally unhelpful."

He said that nearly all medical schools interviewed students, and clinical training was limited only by the number of clinical placements available.

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