Talent loss in medicine

July 5, 1996

The Medical Research Council has, as a result of Government funding restrictions, withdrawn all funding next year for medical and dental students doing an intercalated BSc (a year's degree course spent studying the science research that underlies medicine and dentistry). This abrupt decision will probably be made permanent if the MRC's funding is not increased.

The consequences of this are extremely serious for medical research and healthcare provision. Medical education is undergoing a revolution based on the notion that evidence-based medicine will drive future decision-making by doctors during their professional careers. The abolition of funding allowing the most able medical and dental students to be exposed to experimental research, rather than simply being taught the facts which result from it, must run counter to this notion. Acquaintance with research methodology is valuable, both in allowing the doctors and dentists of the future to assess the therapeutic claims of the pharmaceutical industry and of other health professionals, and in providing a basis for some doctors and dentists to do their own research.

Indeed, research published in the British Medical Journal (Vol.295, p.241) showed that this group of students plays a disproportionately important role in the scientific development of medicine, having their research cited twice as often as doctors who have reached similar professorial or reader positions without doing a BSc. It concluded that "a substantial reduction in the number of undergraduates having the opportunity to intercalate [a BSc] would certainly have an impact on the number of highly trained clinical researchers". It is hard to reconcile the policy of the MRC with this view.

We urge the MRC to reconsider its decision on funding intercalated BSc students, and urge the Government to provide the funds necessary to support this vital component of medical research training.

David Attwell University College London Richard Boyd University of Oxford Science policy sub-committee, The Physiological Society

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