Intended for healthcare professionals


UK proposes preclinical distance learning course

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 03 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:895
  1. Tessa Richards
  1. BMJ

    The UK Department of Health is considering innovative proposals from the Open University to provide distance learning courses to train UK medical students at home for the first two of the six year training course leading to registration. If the proposals are accepted, the first students on the new “foundation course for medicine” will be enrolled in 2002.

    The course will be based on similar principles to the well established distance learning degree courses that the Open University has been running for the past 27 years. It is hoped that the course will attract a wider, and more representative, social and ethnic mix of students into medicine than current university based courses. Initially, it will enrol 232 students and will be open only to graduates with good science degrees. Most of the course will be completed at home using distance learning materials, but students will also participate in online tutorials, conferences, and discussion groups and undertake local clinical attachments and short residential courses.

    Arrangements are already in place for the course to start at two sites-one in Yorkshire and the other in the south west. Eighty two students will complete their training at the University of Leeds Medical School. Their progress will be evaluated carefully and compared with that of their fellow students who have taken the traditional university based, preclinical training course.

    The remaining 150 students who pass the foundation course will complete their medical training in the south west of England at a new “virtual” medical school-the Peninsula Medical School. This is a unique venture between the Open University, the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, and the NHS Trusts in Devon and Cornwall, to create a medical school based in existing clinical and research units.

    The new initiative is competing with 20 other bids from established medical schools in England, but Janet Grant, professor of education in medicine at the Open University, is optimistic that the potential of the new training programmes will be recognised. “We are convinced that this is the way forward for medical education, and not just in England. Once the programmes are running they will be much cheaper and infinitely more flexible than conventional courses.”