Medical graduates’ abilities vastly inconsistent

Jennifer Shaw 21 February 2008

There is significant variation in the performance of medical students across the country, recent tests have shown.

Studies led by doctors at University College London found major differences in the performance of graduates across 19 UK universities.

Researchers compared how students from the different universities performed in the exam for the Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians. Oxbridge students were the highest performers, with 83% passing the exam first time. Newcastle medics also did well with 67% passing on their initial attempt. But only 32% of students at Liverpool and 38% of Dundee students managed to pass the exam first time round.

The results have raised concerns amongst the General Medical Council (GMC), which is responsible for setting the standards of training. GMC chiefs have considered introducing a national medical licensing exam, as in the USA.

Recent studies of the postgraduate GP exam also found that between 2003 and 2006 67% of those graduates failing were from overseas.

One of the potential causes of the great variation in figures has been put down to differences in the amount of practical training students receive in the first part of their degree before attending medical school.

Aaron Singh, who graduated from Cambridge in Medicine last year, spoke to The Cambridge Student (TCS) about the academic focus of the pre-clinical Cambridge course in comparison with those of other universities:

“A lot of medics apply to Cambridge for the prestige and the big fat crest on their degrees. But they are completely unaware that for the first 3 years they are nothing more than glorified NatScis.’

But Dr. Diana Wood, Director of Medical Education and Clinical Dean, dismissed the idea that Cambridge medical graduates are fundamentally disadvantaged by the structure of the course: “We have pioneered a method of teaching in clinical and communication skills (the Cambridge Calgary method) which is used in over half the medical schools across the world.”

Carly Hilts

Jennifer Shaw