Older, more rounded and artier applicants make better medical students

Polemic: five proposals for a medical school admission policy J Med Ethics 2006; 32: 491-4

Older, artier, and better rounded applicants, with at least one year's work experience would make better medical students and happier doctors, suggests a leading educationalist philosopher in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Dr Christopher Cowley, of the School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice at the University of East Anglia, sets out five new admission criteria to select the most suitable candidates for a career in medicine.

He contends that these would ensure that students would not only be technically proficient, but also more capable of understanding both themselves and patients better. This in turn would make them better doctors and help them to enjoy their jobs more, he says.

He proposes:

  • An A level in a humanity or social science to supplement the "stringent science requirement" would allow successful candidates to be better primed for the social science elements in the medical curriculum. And would help shift the pure science focus in "both training and temperament." Any A level that involves written texts and essays would do, he says, and so could include a language, politics, economics, law, or drama.

  • Extra points to be awarded for an A level in English Literature, on the grounds that it improves imagination and empathy, communication skills, and the ability to discuss complex ethical issues.

  • A minimum age requirement of 23, but without the need for a first degree, so as not to disadvantage those from less affluent backgrounds. This would ensure that students were sufficiently mature to know themselves and the world better, so helping them to make a more informed and motivated choice about a medical career, and to understand the patient's point of view better , he says.

  • A year's full time experience in a healthcare or voluntary sector organisation to provide a thorough grounding in the type of environment and ethos in which they will be expected to work.

  • Two lists of interview discussion topics to prepare, drawn from literary works and topics in healthcare politics, in a bid to test the applicant's wider political knowledge, awareness, and sensitivity.

Dr Cowley says that medical schools have come a long way towards improving curriculum content, but it is not clear what further improvements can be made with "the raw materials at hand."

He concludes: "The 18 year old pure science pupil is no longer suitable for medicine."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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