Trainee doctors are to experience the ups and downs of dealing with patients earlier following complaints that their degrees are too theoretical.
New medical students at Liverpool University will start solving clinical problems from day one, examining their own bodies and working with plastic body parts. In the second year they will work with GPs, examining patients under supervision and make home visits.
Until now students have spent their first two years in lectures learning theory and do not meet patients until the third year. The rest of their five-year training is entirely clinical.
Under the Liverpool scheme both types of learning will run in tandem and students will be tested not just on their knowledge but also on their ability to use and apply it.
Most medical schools are reviewing teaching methods after the General Medical Council complained in 1993 that young doctors had poor communication skills.
John Bligh, professor of medical education, said: "At Liverpool we are developing a very direct link between theoretical learning and work in the community. Evidence from North America shows that the theory is also strengthened."
He said the scheme would help decentralise medical training because students would spend much of their time working with the same communities under supervision by GPs. This would help them learn about teamwork, managing resources and the importance to health of the environment.
Stella Lowry, who has made a study of medical education for the British Medical Association, said: "The discharge time is so much faster than it used to be that a lot of medicine isn't being practised on teaching hospital wards any more. Students need to get out in the community to see what is happening."