Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Committee Specialist from the Director of Standards and Education, General Medical Council (HE 139)

  1.  The GMC's Education Committee has statutory responsibilities for quality in medical education. These include setting the standard for undergraduate teaching and learning opportunities, and ensuring that this is maintained by all UK Medical Schools.

  2.  While the Medical Schools themselves will have more detailed first-hand data on retention issues than the GMC, our Education Committee is concerned to ensure that able students are recruited and retained on medical degree courses. In our programme of visits to all undergraduate Medical Schools, we ask questions about retention. We thought it might be helpful to report our views in this area.

  3.  Although the wastage rate from undergraduate medical courses is generally relatively low, the fact that the undergraduate medical course is a five or six-year programme may pose financial problems, particularly for students with limited financial resources. We have heard concerns expressed, especially in London Medical Schools, that the very high cost of living and travelling (bearing in mind that medical students may need to undertake clinical attachments at a considerable distance from the Medical School) causes considerable financial hardship. While we have no first-hand evidence that this is directly causing retention problems, we know that it is a considerable worry to many students and staff, and we will be very concerned if this position were exacerbated.

  4.  As it is, many students feel the need to work during term time to supplement their finances. The Education Committee is concerned that this may eat into the reflective time, which is essential if students are to make the most of their courses, and thus become good doctors.

  5.  Financial factors are not, of course, the only ones affecting retention. Much of the Education Committee's effort is directed towards ensuring that the undergraduate medical curriculum provides students with the learning opportunities they need to become doctors, and that the curriculum is delivered through good quality medical teaching. Our requirements for Medical Schools, and for teaching, are set out in Tomorrow's Doctors and in The Doctor as Teacher (copies of which were sent to you in January last year—I enclose additional copies in case this is helpful). We have been very encouraged by the major reforms to the undergraduate curriculum which the medical schools have achieved over the past few years.

  6.  There are many organisational factors, well beyond the GMC's remit, which affect the ability of universities with Medical Schools to recruit able medical teachers—doubtless you will receive evidence from others about this.

  7.  Our Education Committee works closely with the University Medical Schools, and the Department of Health, to try to ensure that graduating doctors are fit for modern practice, and therefore registration. Minimising unnecessary retention problems through high quality teaching, and through adequate financial support, is important for patients in the future.

General Medical Council

January 2001

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