Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Doctors and Islamic State

Time for tighter checks on medical schools?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 30 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3511
  1. Duncan Gardham, security journalist, London
  1. duncan.gardham{at}

The case of British students who flew to Syria to work while at a medical school in Khartoum has exposed the weakness of the system for accrediting medical schools worldwide, Duncan Gardham reports

The UK General Medical Council is relying on foreign governments to approve the medical degrees it accepts with no further checks on the quality of teaching. The practice raises questions about the reliability of teaching in countries such as Sudan, which has been attracting students from Britain partly because medical colleges there are cheaper and easier to get into.

A group of eleven medical students and recently qualified doctors (believed to be seven Britons, one Canadian, one American, and two Sudanese) flew from Sudan to work in Syria in March, raising further questions about the influences that young students can come under while studying abroad.

Many of the students, it emerged, came from UK families of Sudanese background and had been studying at the University of Medical Sciences and Technology (UMST) in Khartoum, a private university established in 2007.

Last week, seven British students were among a party of 12 from UMST who travelled to Turkey, believed to be trying to enter Syria, the Foreign Office has confirmed.

UMST is one of 12 colleges in Sudan registered by the World Directory of Medical Schools (, relied on by the GMC. Sudan is just one of several countries struggling against Islamic extremism that have medical schools on the list—Afghanistan and Yemen have six colleges each and Somalia has two. Syria has seven, including colleges in the contested cities of Homs, Aleppo, and Deir Ezzor. Sources familiar with the Sudanese medical world say that UMST does not have the same academic reputation as Khartoum University’s medical school, once known as the Kitchener School of Medicine, which was established in …

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