Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Life and Death

In praise of young doctors

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 11 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4549
  1. Iona Heath, president, Royal College of General Practitioners
  1. iona.heath22{at}

Something seems to have gone very wrong with medical training. Young doctors and their patients deserve better, says Iona Heath, writing in a personal capacity

The healthcare system, much more often than not, treats young doctors badly, and yet the commitment and dedication of the vast majority remain exemplary. How long before these enduring qualities are snuffed out?

Problems begin early, as the structure of education invites teenagers to think that all that matters in the making of a good doctor is an understanding of science. Science is, of course, necessary, but it is never enough in a profession that seeks to understand and alleviate the huge diversity of human suffering.

At university, the emphasis on science and the linear reasoning of cause and effect persist, leaving little room for the exploration of doubt and the nurturing of that probing scepticism necessary to explore the gaps in the current state of scientific explanation. Students are encouraged to record their reflections but are seldom invited to question the fundamental assumptions about the nature of science and medicine. And, for students in England, there is the additional burden of huge amounts of debt not faced …

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