Medical student

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Reforms adviser tells GMC to hold national-exam review

Medical student leaders have labelled proposals for a national exam in medicine as ‘highly alarming’.

The NHS Future Forum, a group of experts providing independent advice to the government on healthcare reforms, has recommended that the GMC should look into the possibility of a standardised exam.

This would align qualification with registration with the regulator, it says in the report Education and Training: Next Stage (pdf), which was published last month.

The report also calls for a so-called ‘quality premium’ — extra cash for teaching for organisations that can demonstrate quality in terms of learning and ways of widening participation in medicine. The government has accepted the forum’s recommendations.

BMA medical students committee co-chair Marion Matheson said: ‘The proposal for a national exam is highly alarming.

‘Currently, there is great variety and individuality among the medical programmes available; students can choose where to study according to which processes best suit their learning styles.

‘A national exam would limit the diversity of medical courses and graduates.’

She added that the MSC had full confidence in the GMC’s quality assurance of the current system, and did not believe there was a need for a national exam.

The Medical Schools Council rejected the idea of a national exam as recently as 2009, when it reviewed the foundation programme application process.

Ms Matheson said the forum had heeded the MSC’s call for courses such as medicine to have their own access agreements, separate from universities’ arrangements for all other courses.

However, she added that the government still needed to address the lack of financial support for graduate students on traditional undergraduate medical courses, who tend to come from lower income backgrounds.

The forum also says local education and training boards, which will be responsible for the quality and funding of education and training in England, should address substandard clinical education.

Ms Matheson added: ‘Undergraduate medical programmes are longer and more complex than other degrees, so care and consideration must be taken if any course is not meeting required standards of excellence.’

She said it was important that the reforms did not destabilise medical education and workforce planning, and that adequate support and welfare to students must be maintained.

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We welcome the education and training recommendations from the NHS Future Forum. In our education strategy, we made a commitment to look again at the case for introducing a national examination in the light of our evaluation of the impact of the new Tomorrow’s Doctors.’