Medical students need live patients

Training needs to move out of lectures and on to the wards, GMC head says. Melanie Newman reports

April 16, 2009

Universities need to do more to ensure that medical students see patients on the ward, the outgoing president of the General Medical Council told Times Higher Education.

Sir Graeme Catto, who steps down from the GMC in June, said that while students were generally content with their higher education, they complained about the lack of bedside teaching.

Sir Graeme, a professor, former dean of medicine at the University of Aberdeen and vice-principal of King's College London, said: "(Students) need to come out of their lecture theatres and get to patients, but there's a lot of research to show they're not doing that. The old- fashioned teaching ward round has been lost. It's much easier to organise speaking to 300 students all at once in a lecture than grapple with the logistical nightmare of sending them to GP surgeries or wards."

Links between medical schools and the National Health Service must be strengthened to achieve this, he said. In March, the Department of Health announced the creation of five Academic Health Science Centres, which are partnerships between universities and NHS trusts.

But Sir Graeme said that real improvements would come only when the DoH, the NHS and strategic health authorities started worrying about education and training in the same way as they did about the workforce.

He said that universities should be more involved in the fate of their first-year graduates. "The university's responsibility extends to the pre-registration house officer year, now known as the F1 year," Sir Graeme said.

F1 doctors are not the NHS' responsibility, and "that has always been a bone of contention, because the students are working in the NHS".

He said F1 doctors should have a compulsory induction period each time they moved posts.

"Young doctors are put into these jobs and they have no idea what number to ring at three in the morning when things go wrong. It's a practical matter rather than an educational issue, but I'd like it to be the responsibility of the medical school, not the host hospital.

"Universities should construct their courses and curriculums to ensure that it happens. The best ones do ... but it's not happening everywhere," he said.

Sir Graeme will be succeeded by Professor Peter Rubin, a board member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and former chairman of the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board.

Sir Graeme will continue to chair the Scottish Stem Cell Network and work as a professor of medicine at Aberdeen.

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