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UEA Medical Aspirations programme applauded by UK General Medical Council

A project which helps students from lower income backgrounds into a career in medicine has been commended for its work by the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC). The Medical Aspirations Programme, run by the Enrichment team at the University of East Anglia (UEA), was highlighted as an area of good practice after the GMC visited medical schools, hospitals and GP surgeries who train doctors in the region.

Launched as a pilot in 2010, the course offers 30 spaces to 16 and 17 year-olds on a three-day residential course based on learning about the medical profession. It includes guaranteed interviews for places at the Norwich Medical School for those who meet the academic criteria.

Since the programme launched, 13 participants have progressed on to scholarship places at UEA’s Norwich Medical School. Worth between 50% and 100% of full course fees for the first four years, these scholarships are generously funded by entrepreneur and philanthropist David Tibble, who studied at the university in the 1970s.

The students who take part are all from the local area (Norfolk or North Suffolk) and must be from a background traditionally under-represented in field of medicine, for example students whose parents had not gone to university, or who come from a low income household or from a school with low progression into higher education.

Students who have been successful in previous years also visit local schools to encourage more young people to follow in their footsteps.

Annabel Foster, 18 from Norfolk, is in her first year of a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB BS) degree after completing the Medical Aspiration Programme. She said the course allowed her to experience a taste of university life: “As a child I loved the idea of being a doctor, carrying my briefcase- complete with stethoscope- and treating my toys as patients in an imaginary hospital.

“After studying my GCSEs I decided I was still determined to aim for Medicine and applied to various surgeries to gain more experience, but I still knew little of life in Medical School and the application process, as no one in my family has ever worked in the healthcare sector, or been to university. Therefore applying to Medical Aspirations seemed like a great way to learn about how the course is structured and to speak to current Medical students about their personal experiences.”

Niall Dickson, the GMC’s Chief Executive, praised the programme. He said: “Medicine needs to tap into talent and commitment from all social backgrounds and so encouraging people from under-represented backgrounds to consider a career as a doctor is hugely important.

“The programme at the UEA’s Norwich Medical School has already shown itself to be effective, and it just the type of initiative that should be adopted more widely by other medical schools. It is to be applauded.”

The course takes place in February half term each year. The course is entirely funded by donations so all places are free. Transport to and from UEA, food and all activities on campus are also paid for.

Charlotte Wheatland, Assistant Head of Outreach at UEA, said: “Without any experience of university in your family to draw upon, applying to study medicine can be daunting. Finding out more about medical careers can be difficult if you don’t know people that are already doctors. This course is designed to help local year 12 students with these particular worries.

“We want to give them as much information as we can about the medical profession and how to apply. This will include taster sessions from medical school, information on suitable work experience, as well as spending time in a hospital setting.”

The full GMC report is available online here.

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