School pupils to get taste of medicine by tapping into students' online journals

October 24, 2003

Guy's, King's and St Thomas' Medical School in London, the largest in the UK, has been trying different mentoring schemes to link up with schoolchildren from London state schools for the past three years.

Sue Tuttlefield, the school's mentoring and liaison support officer, said an early attempt to match sixth-formers with students from the medical school floundered because the students had found it difficult to juggle regular meetings and a demanding academic and clinical timetable.

This week, the school launched an e-mentoring scheme to counter the problem, with funding from the Brightside Trust and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

Again, sixth-formers are paired with a student, but the new project will allow them to communicate via a dedicated website. Participants will be notified by text message when their partner has made an entry in their private online journal.

The aim is to provide disadvantaged schoolchildren with a role model who can help them raise their personal aspirations - and hopefully their attainment levels.

Ms Tuttlefield said about 80 medical students had volunteered to act as mentors, and they had had to rule others out. "We've said we don't want first-years, because they have a lot of adjusting to do themselves," she said.

Aresearch project led by Judy Searle at Peninsula Medical School, Plymouth, is meanwhile investigating the best ways of increasing opportunities for young people from underprivileged backgrounds. She said: "It's all very well for us to be committed to widening participation, but do we really know we are not causing harm?"

The study began with a 12-month investigation of the attitudes and aspirations of sixth-form students. The team conducted focus groups in schools in Devon and Cornwall where there is little tradition of progression to higher education.

According to Dr Searle, these found that work experience was the most important factor for school students considering a career in areas such as medicine. She reported that careers advisers were having little impact, but students were being put off by their own perceptions of their ability or ill-informed subject choices at GCSE level.

Her team is using the findings to engage with students in 21 schools in the area. They are exploring different techniques for widening participation, including "getting into medicine" taster sessions - involving students going into schools or sixth-formers coming to the university - and GP workshops.

In the longer term, Dr Searle hopes to extend the study to other medical schools across England and Wales.

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