THE Open University may set up its own medical school. It would be based at hospitals and surgeries and would revolutionise the way doctors are trained.
The OU has been involved in postgraduate medical education for a number of years but has steered clear of undergraduate medicine. Now it is proposing a networked medical school aimed mainly at graduates from other disciplines wishing to become doctors. It would meet the demand for medics from a greater variety of backgrounds.
Janet Grant, the professor of education in medicine at the OU who devised the scheme, said it would not be based in a single, large teaching hospital or medical school but dispersed through clusters of district general hospitals and GP practices.
Medical students would be supervised by local clinical teachers and would also benefit from the OU's expertise in distance learning. As well as clinical training in the practice environment, there would be virtual seminars and tutorials linking students through video-conferencing and electronic communication. Professor Grant said: "This would be a proper medical school with research and teaching facilities."
The OU is also proposing a foundation course to prepare prospective graduate students for clinical courses at the OU and elsewhere.
A number of other medical schools are looking at introducing accelerated three or four-year medical degrees for graduates of other disciplines following the recommendation of the Campbell report that the United Kingdom train an extra 1,000 doctors a year.
But there is concern how a medical school, such as London's St George's which has already submitted its proposals to the General Medical Council, can teach sufficient fundamental science as well as clinical medicine in three years.
The OU is talking with a number of possible partners, including St George's, about a foundation course that would take one or two years, depending on the nature of the student's first degree. This course would be in traditional OU style. Professor Grant said: "We want to go ahead in partnership with others."
The OU's plans depend on the government's response to the Campbell report although a decision is unlikely before the comprehensive spending review. Medical schools, and some universities without medical schools, are preparing bids for the students.