Young doctors scrap rote

July 31, 1998

THE University of Manchester medical school has come up with a radical solution to curriculum overload, writes Alison Utley.

It has decided to abandon big lectures, and replace them with problem-solving in small groups.

Keith Burdett, director of undergraduate studies, des-cribed the move as "throwing a brick" at the curriculum.

Case studies form the core of the teaching from day one, and students have been put in charge of their own learning.

"We let them get on with it," said Dr Burdett.

It is a significant cultural shift for a conservative profession, but Dr Burdett insisted that medical students had wasted too much time rote-learning facts which they would never use in practice.

Now groups are given a case, and they find out for themselves what they need to know. Even if a consultant fails to turn up for a teaching session, the students will continue with their learning.

"They do not expect simply to absorb what they are told," Dr Burdett said.

Shifting the emphasis from knowing to thinking suits some students more than others. Dr Burdett said that about 5 per cent cannot cope.

"We are still learning a lot about how much to give to our students and how much to leave to them," he said.

One of the most difficult hurdles to overcome was to educate the profession to admit it did not have all the answers, Dr Burdett said. What the school had come up with had profoundly shaken up academics, some 20 to 30 per cent of whom still needed some convincing, he added.

Roger Green, dean of the medical school, backs the changes.

"What we have come up with is an integrated course which does not treat students like school pupils," he said.

Students are enthusiastic about the course.

"This approach means that when you learn a fact, it is in context. That makes all the difference," said Jenny Long.

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