It's great that next generation see medicine as an exciting career

Overworked doctor in his office. Tired male scientist trying to focus, rubbing his forehead with fin

Working in the medical sciences is a brilliant career even without a pandemic. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Suddenly I’m fashionable. OK not me, I never have been, but a career in medicine.

UCAS, the university admissions service, have reported a large increase in applications for medicine and nursing.  

When I went to medical school in 1969 social sciences were the new and exciting subjects. By the yuppy 1980s, a career in business appealed.

Now medicine and nursing are top of the list. Applications to history, philosophy and classics have fallen.

Applications for medicine and dentistry have increased from 103,910 to 124,160. Applications to study nursing have increased by a third to 60,000.  

This must be a result of the pandemic.

We see senior community health doctors in high-profile discussions, press conferences and being interviewed on the news. We hear about the amazing vaccine developments. We see hospital doctors, nurses and GPs on the front line.

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The next generation see medicine as an exciting career.

When the economy is about to face severe difficulties, here’s a career where everyone can make a real difference and with little risk of unemployment.

Our battle with Covid is not only about the front-line staff.  Applications for engineering have increased as young people see engineers develop new ventilators and overcome the problems of setting up a Nightingale hospital in a few weeks. Pure laboratory research helped us to understand the virus and its weaknesses.  

What is so impressive is that young people have seen the pressures on clinical staff, seen the excessive hours, seen the emotional stress of caring for seriously ill patients and still feel that this is what they want to do with their lives.

They want to help. So much for the 'snowflake generation'.  

Suddenly everyone is learning about medical research, phase three trials and the hoops the scientists need to jump through to get a new drug approved.

We are trying to understand basic statistics. What does 90 per cent effective really mean? Even understanding Charles Darwin’s ideas matters. How does a new variant become dominant?

People are hearing basic biochemistry. What is mRNA and how does a mRNA vaccine work? What once seemed like obscure esoteric aspects of A-level biology have a real practical purpose.

Not enough women apply for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects but this is not a problem in the medical sciences.

The majority of medical students and newly qualified doctors are women. It was a woman, June Almeida, working at St Thomas’ Hospital in London who first described the coronavirus and gave it the name. Professor Sarah Gilbert was at the forefront of developing the AstraZenica vaccine. Dr Jenny Harries is seen Downing Street press conferences as deputy chief medical officer along with Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England.

I hope that anyone applying for medical school or nursing today will not have to face another pandemic.

Working in the medical sciences, on the front line as clinical staff or behind the scenes in the hospital labs or pure research is a brilliant career even without a pandemic. I do not think that young people applying today are making a mistake. 

Once qualified, a new doctor has a vast choice from general practice, a hospital speciality or pure research.

I never thought of community health as a glamorous branch of medicine until I saw Chris Whitty and his team at the Downing Street press conferences.

A medical career is also unpredictable.

A friend of mine decided, after working all hours as a junior doctor he wanted a quiet life and went into community health. Just after he was appointed, he found himself at the head of a city’s response to the AIDS epidemic.  

Medical training has changed. In the 1960s there were 26 UK medical schools admitting less than 2,000 students a year. Today, there are 33 medical schools, including Plymouth and Exeter. Next year there will be 12,000 new places.

I think today’s students are making a great decision, but perhaps I’m biased.