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Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 02:55 GMT
Doctors: The future generations
Controversial doctors - Ledwood, Neale and Van Velzen
Students agree morale in medicine needs a boost
Morale among the medical profession is at an all time low.

Rogue doctors are regularly splashed over the front page of our papers for abusing or mistreating patients; failing to administer the correct drugs or even the drugs correctly.

The medical profession is even turning on its own.

This year Sir Donald Irvine, President of the General Medical Council, criticised doctors for what he branded their paternalistic culture.

BBC Online talked to two medical students and a tutor about morale in medicine and how the future generation of doctors hopes to change public perceptions of the profession

Student Kate Duffield agrees that morale among the medical profession is low.

I think it is quite difficult not to get demoralised. It is difficult when you see all the negative things

Kate Duffield, medical student

A fourth year student at Newcastle University, she is only too aware of the high media profile of medicine and the bad publicity generated by doctors like gynaecologists Richard Neale; Rodney Ledwood and the pathologist at the centre of the Alder Hey scandal Professor Dick Van Velzen

She said: "I think it is quite difficult not to get demoralised. It is difficult when you see all the negative things."

" I wanted to study medicine because I wanted to be a good doctor and to help people.

Public perception

"You do start thinking though what have I let myself in for."

Fellow student Peter Taysum, a second year student, who has already taken a PHD in economics, said students do find the current stigma hard to deal with.

He said: "It is a difficult time in the profession particularly for students entering into it. We haven't done anything wrong, but we are being tarred with the same brush. You have to be aware that what you do from day one will have an impact."

But he wants to see the profession take a harder line with itself. He thinks errant doctors should be dealt with severely if they step out of line and be struck off if necessary.

"I think the GMC has to take the lead a little better and say we are not going to accept this and send the right message through to the students like me.

"They need to say we are not going to accept this sort of behaviour," he said.

Kate said she still feels that medicine is a reputable career, but admits that the problem is going to be in changing the public perception of how they view doctors.

She said: "We all have aspirations to be good doctors."

She said one ray of hope was that her generation of doctors are fully versed in how to interact with patients.

They are taught to treat them as human beings with dignity and most importantly how to communicate with them.

Kate said that communication is a big part of training and hopes this will prevent her generation from repeating the mistakes of the old school of doctors.

Communication skills

"The key thing is there is so much emphasis on communication skills now.

"What we are seeing as students is very different to what doctors who qualified 25 years ago saw. From day one we are being taught not to be paternalistic and to talk to our patients."

Peter agrees: "The undergraduate course at Newcastle teaches quite a lot of ethics and communication. You are taught how you react to patients as an individual.

"If we are going to be good doctors we have to take this onboard."

Dr Andrew Fairbairn, senior tutor in charge of medical school admissions at Newcastle University, agreed improved communication skills would save the medical profession from being branded "arrogant".

He said current students had it drilled into them to treat the patient courteously and said that was paying off with the current intake promising to be exemplary carers.

He said: "There is definitely an improvement.

"I see the students of today behaving very differently. We teach them a whole number of issues and I would hope this changes attitudes.

"Students are less arrogant than they were in the past.

"I had two students presenting a case to me the other day and they were lovely kids and I thought I would be quite happy to have them looking after me if I was in hospital."

Dr Fairburn said that although things look bleak for medicine at the moment, he is sure the profession will ride the storm.

"Medicine as a profession has survived a long time and with luck this is a temporary blip," he said.

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