Germany's plans to give nurses the chance to train to become doctors has led to a trade of insults between politicians and doctors.
Education minister Jurgen Ruttgers has called for a change in training regulations to permit nurses to study medicine even if they do not have the Abitur, the high school leaving certificate which is currently a prerequisite.
It is part of Ruttgers' policy to put professional and vocational training on an equal footing with academic study, and has almost unanimous political support in the 16 German states as well as among the opposition Social Democrats. But the idea has been vehemently rejected by doctors' representatives.
The Hartmann Bund, a doctors' association, said doctors had to be people who can think analytically and work scientifically, and the Abitur must remain the proof of this. "It may well be all right to become a politician without any previous knowledge, but in a doctor's work lives are at stake," said Karsten Vilmar, president of the German medical council.
But Karlheinz Guttmacher, education spokesman for the Free Democrats (FDP), said the doctors' "reflex rejection" of Ruttgers' proposal is what a neurologist would call a decision made by the cerebellum. The country needed the best doctors not the doctors with the best exam results, he said.
Although nearly all German states have passed regulations opening up higher education subjects to people without the Abitur, access students still represent only 0.01 per cent of the annual student intake - a far lower proportion than most other western European countries. Medicine and pharmacy have remained closed to access students because regulations still demand the Abitur as an entry requirement. Dr Ruttgers said: "A young person who decided in favour of vocational education rather than grammar school and university should not later be denied the chance to improve or change their career direction.
"If we want to open up higher education generally for the most capable graduates of vocational education then we cannot overlook nurses."
But Maximilian Zollner, chairman of the NAV Virchowbund, an association of licensed doctors in Germany, said that at a time when 7,000 doctors are unemployed and many have to find work in nursing positions, it is unbelievable that politicians want to open the medical profession to nurses.
But the most cutting criticism of doctors came from a leader article in Die Zeit: "Doctors' associations are demonstrating once again why it is so difficult to carry through reforms in education in Germany. There is no lack of good ideas. But they always fall on an old German definition of the elite."