Intended for healthcare professionals


Graduate students are more challenging, demanding, and questioning

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 28 September 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:676

Peter McCrorie is director of the graduate entry programme at St George's Hospital Medical School

Are good doctors born or made?

Both. Some students have a natural gift that can serve as a grounding for focused training, while others can be nurtured into becoming good doctors. Some students, however, will never make good doctors, no matter how people try to help them.

What do you look for when selecting students?

A number of factors are important in our selection process: an understanding about what being a good doctor entails, from both the profession's point of view and the patient's point of view; a significant, meaningful experience of working in a healthcare environment or with disabled or disadvantaged people; an understanding of the importance of research in medicine; and an awareness of the ethical issues associated with medical research. Good oral communication skills and evidence of flexible and critical thinking are also important, as is an awareness of the need for doctors to have strategies for dealing with stress.

Are graduate medical students any different from non-graduate students?

Definitely, although there may be less difference between graduates and older, more mature non-graduates. Graduate students are highly motivated and committed. They are much more self directed, challenging, demanding, questioning, and mature than non-graduate medical students. Graduate students also come with a good deal of content knowledge, although that knowledge will vary widely according to the degree taken. They can therefore help each other in their learning. This is ideal for problem based learning.

Does undertaking medical training as a graduate have any bearing on being a good doctor?

If the course they undertake is little or no different from the school leaver course, it would make little difference. However, if the graduate programme is tailormade specifically for graduates, and it builds upon their strengths, motivation, and prior learning, then it will make a difference. Also, if the pool of students is widened to include non-science graduates, then that will influence the end product of the medical school through the broadening of the intake. I believe that mature students, whether graduates or not, are sooner and better able to handle the responsibilities of being a doctor. They are simply more ready for it than the many 18 year olds who don't understand what being a doctor is about.

Do you think that medical education needs to be altered in any way, and if so how?

From 30 years' experience of teaching both school leavers and graduates, patients would be better served by doctors entering medical school after the age of 22. Entrance to medical school should be by a specially designed entrance examination that tests reasoning rather than factual recall. It follows that learning should also be through reasoning and logic, rather than by rote.

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