NE focus on locals pays off

August 22, 2003

Susan Boden is determined to become a "different kind of doctor". She left school with virtually no qualifications after regularly playing truant, but returned to college at 17, when her daughter was a week old. She went on to gain a distinction in her foundation course at Durham University.

She has now completed the first two years of a medical degree at Durham and is the first in her family to be in higher education.

"I can't wait to wear a stethoscope but unlike most students I have been a hospital care assistant and know about proper basic care and about communicating with patients," she said. "I want to become a people's doctor."

Ms Boden is part of Durham's first cohort of medical students who have completed phase one of a new programme that is a joint venture with the University of Newcastle. The 95 students, half of whom are from the Northeast, spent the first two years at the university's Queen's campus in Stockton; they will now move to Newcastle to complete their final three years of clinical training.

The aim is to persuade local people to train locally and remain in the region to address the shortage of doctors in the Northeast.

Ms Boden continues to work as a care assistant for 16 hours a week to make ends meet. "The hardest part is missing out on time with my little girl, but I want to achieve and need to put in a 100 per cent effort," she said.

Fellow student Michael Griksaitis had wanted to be a doctor since he was seven but was told repeatedly by teachers he would not make it. He passed the Durham course with distinction and is determined to help other students get the same chance.

He was the organiser of Durham's first residential summer school for would-be doctors. Thirty-six pupils aged 16-17 came from schools and colleges across the region to sample the academic and social sides of medical school.

"The feedback we have had has been brilliant," said Mr Griksaitis, who managed to secure £7,000 for the scheme from Middlesbrough Primary Care Trust.

About 150 pupils have applied for next year's course, which Mr Griksaitis wants to run again. "I came from an estate where few kids, if any, go into the professions and I was scared when I came here. Now I want to help others who might feel as I did by being on their wavelength."

Academic director of medicine at Durham John Hamilton said: "Having students whose experience is closer to their patients means they can authenticate their medicine." Professor Hamilton was instrumental in setting up a medical school in Ilorin, Nigeria, and worked with Aboriginal students in rural medical education in Australia.

Jacqueline Spence, the medicine programme's widening participation officer, said local students would be familiar with the area's health problems, adding: "They will make better doctors if they stay in the region to practise."

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