President of RCS comments on medical education

An RSS feed from The Hospital Dr website caught my eye last night.  The feed detailed a feature interview with Mr John Black the President of the Royal College of Surgeons in England.  Mr Black was invited to answer a series of 12 questions.   You can read the full interview here.  Being involved in medical education it was the first question which grabbed my attention, ‘What is the biggest challenge the profession faces?’  Mr Black’s response was

Restoring all that has been thrown away in the modernisation fervour of the last decade. An awful lot of babies have gone out with the bathwater. Basic sciences and acquiring factual knowledge have to be restored to the medical school curricula; in postgraduate training, educational theory has to be replaced by classic apprenticeship; and whatever the health care model the country chooses it must be based on achieving the best outcomes not irrelevant targets and political expediency.

Is he right in what he says about the basic sciences in the undergraduate medical curriuclum?


  1. I disagree partly.

    We are integrating clinical and basic sciences because we believe that the science is more relevant and therefore more memorable when the link to medicine is clear.

    The apprenticeship model is wonderful and worked well in the past but busy doctors rarely have time to mentor as closely as they did 40 years ago. Medicine is more complex and some of the new technology such as simulators allow students to practice dangerous, embarrassing or rarely seen skills to at least minimal proficiency.

    This reminds me of a lecture I attended two years ago where the prof was complaining about the fact that Greek and Latin were no longer required courses to get into university. Times and education do change even when we might not.

  2. I was talking about apprenticeship at the ACT meeting in Stracathro this lunch time. I really think we should engender a sense of belonging, and apprenticeship – give the students a sense of worth, and a place in the system.

    I am totally on board with simulation, and the use of new technology, but there’s little more inspiring than being taught, one to one, by a fantastic senior medic. And there are so many fantastic senior medics about, we can offer so much more!

    Ad augusta per angusta

    1. (From the student side…)

      Funny you should say that, the lecture we had today had students on (the bottom of) the list of MDT members! When valued in a team (not just on paper, but actually), you’re a lot more inclined to engage.

      Very much agree with your second paragraph DundeeChest! Although when we’ve had teaching from keen non-senior-medics, it’s been great too!

      While inclined to agree with the thrust of the original quote, being engaged with others who are keen and knowledgeable helps a tremendous amount, compared to mere formal systems, which do have their place.

  3. Thanks @Deirdre, @dundeechest and @Joel Schneider for your comments. I had a meeting with a couple of our 4th year students yesterday to discuss areas we should focus on in relation to some e-learning resource developments and mentioned to them what the President of the RCS had said. They agreed with him on the apprenticeship issue and one of them commented very enthusiastically about their recent experience at a District General Hospital in the north of England where they’d had a very positive experience of apprenticeship. Interestingly they went on to say that there wasn’t enough time in the timetable for sessions with our Prof of Anatomy and thought it would be very helpful if he could record some podcasts to supplement his teaching sessions, which they rated very highly.
    At the recent NHS HE Forum meeting, the CEO of an English NHS Trust said that given the UK funding outlook for the next several years DGHs may not be able to sustain their role of teaching and training in the future. This is concerning.

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