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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Medical training 'dumbed down'
Medical students
Medical schools are joining the fast-track system
A leading surgeon has claimed the welfare of patients is being put at risk because training given to medical students is being dumbed down.

Andrew Raftery, from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), criticised new fast-track courses which he says fail to provide students with sufficient medical knowledge.

The four-year, post-graduate courses are designed to train doctors from non-scientific backgrounds.


Students no longer dissect the human body

Andrew Raftery
RCS
But an investigation by BBC Radio 4's Today programme found fast-track, third-year students could not answer basic questions about anatomy.

Mr Raftery, who sits on the governing body of the RCS, said: "Training is being dumbed down in the basic clinical sciences.

"Students no longer dissect the human body - probably best to learn on a cadaver than actually have to learn later on, on a patient."

In their first week, the students are examining patients, but third-year students at London's St George's Hospital showed gaps in their knowledge when interviewed by the Today programme.

Five more medical schools have signed up for the new courses.

And within three years, it is estimated more than 10% of medical students will be from fast-track courses.

No evidence

Dr Peter Rubin, chairman of the General Medical Council's Education Committee, said: "There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that we are failing.

"The four-year course that is in operation at St George's is simply based on four-year courses that have run for many decades in North America."

He said that in the past medical students learned science first, and then the clinical applications later.

Now, however, the science and clinical practice are taught together throughout the course.

"If you had asked the questions in a clinically-related way at the very end of their course then there would be cause for concern.

"But you were asking students halfway through their course for information that they could not reasonably be expected to acquire until they were at the end."

However, Professor Harold Ellis, a clinical anatomist at King's College London, said he was concerned that curriculum changes were introduced without sufficient prior testing.

"We have got to show that conventional teaching is not doing its job properly, and we have got to show that any change is a change for the better. I am not convinced that this is so."

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman said: "It is premature to claim that fast-track courses are producing less competent doctors since no-one in the country has qualified through this training yet."

Students on the fast-track courses rejected claims of dumbing down.

Two students who attend Leicester-Warwick Medical School said: "The only reason such a course can be condensed into four years is by the sheer hard work and determination of the students, to apply themselves and achieve the same goals in a shorter time period."


If you have been a student on one of these courses or you have experience of them as a lecturer, please use the postform below to send your comments.

"As students of the Leicester-Warwick Medical School, we would like to point out that we are all biological science graduates, who take exactly the same exams as those students on a traditional five year course at Leicester Medical School. Teaching includes the dissection of human cadavers. The only reason such a course can be condensed into four years is by the sheer hard work and determination of the students, to apply themselves and achieve the same goals in a shorter time period."

Amy Jones and Emma Poyner

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The BBC's Nicola Stanbridge
"Anatomy is no longer intensively taught"
See also:

10 Sep 02 | Health
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