Call for late start to help men into medicine

July 23, 2004

Carol Black, the second female president of the Royal College of Physicians, has supported a move away from undergraduate medical education to stop women doctors dominating the National Health Service.

Key medical schools in the UK are discussing switching to the US system of taking medical students at postgraduate rather than undergraduate level.

It is thought that this would change the demography of doctors entering the system and ensure that students are fully committed to a medical career.

Professor Black, who studied medicine after completing a degree in history, said she would back a move to bring more mature candidates - particularly male ones - into medicine.

She said: "At the moment, we are admitting substantially more women into medicine, and this is partly because women do much better than men in interview at the age of 18. My view is that we don't want to have any profession dominated by either sex. I would love to see equal numbers of men and women in medicine."

A British Medical Association report published last month reveals that in 2003 more than three out of five entrants to UK medical schools were female. It warns that a female-dominated NHS could run into problems as women decide to work part time or take career breaks to raise children.

David Gordon, dean of the faculty of medicine at Manchester University and chair of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said medical schools were discussing taking on more postgraduate medical students.

He said: "I think there is much to be said for the American model because you are taking people who are more mature and have a clearer idea of whether they really want to do medicine."

But he added: "Introducing this right across the UK system would have to be handled carefully as it could cause major disruption."

Sir Richard Sykes, vice-chancellor of Imperial College London, recently told the UK Council for Graduate Education that he wants to encourage top students who automatically chose medicine at undergraduate level to do science instead. He said: "We will move more towards postgraduate medicine.

I think that would have a big impact on the number of people who stay in the physical sciences."

But Sir Keith Peters, regius professor of physic at Cambridge University, which has a small course for graduates, said: "Most medical schools are getting very good undergraduate people. I have yet to see evidence that postgraduate courses are getting better ones."

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