Dr Peter Moore: Students opting for medical school over arts subjects

 St Bartholomew’s Hospital

St Bartholomew’s Hospital - Credit: PA

Perhaps it’s the pandemic or maybe just fear of unemployment but more students are applying to medical school and less to the arts subjects.

Last year fewer than 7,000 students were accepted for English degrees, history fell by 20 per cent to 12,870 and modern languages a third lower to 3,830.

When I was applying to medical school, I did not care where I went.

If any FE college anywhere offered medical degrees, I’d be happy to apply.

When I scrapped in there were about 1,500 places at UK medical schools.

Next year there will be 12,000 places but there is stiff competition, and my A-levels would not get me near a medical school.

So, which medical school is best? Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister, said that it does not matter which university you go to, they’re both very good.

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Historically, most doctors were trained in London and there was considerable snobbery around the 'top' London medical schools.

The idea of women training to be doctors was out of the question.

In 1842, the year that the Torquay Medical Society was founded, the forerunner on the British Medical Journal wrote: “For many years, an unjust spirit of monopoly on the part of the College of Surgeons in London, contributed to limit the usefulness of provincial schools.

"The council of the college obstinately refused to recognise attendance on the surgical practice of any hospitals except those of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Glasgow, and Aberdeen.”

But things were changing.

“The student may complete his education in the country without attending a single lecture in London or paying a single shilling to a metropolitan hospital.” 

The London snobbery had not gone away.

“An impression seems still to linger on the minds of many, that the College of Surgeons requires a portion of the time devoted to medical education, to be spent in London.

"No regulation of this kind now exists; the student may complete his medical education at Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, &c., where he commenced it, and will be admitted for examination at the College of Surgeons, University of London, or Apothecaries' Hall, on presenting certificates obtained from his provincial teachers alone.”

Since the regulations around the exams applied throughout the country it is not surprising that the standards were equally high even though the standards were, again set in London.

Wherever they were trained new doctors still had to apply to the University of London for their degree.  

Even when I was trained, which was some years after 1842, there were 12 medical schools in London and 14 in the rest of the UK.

Some of the London snobbery still existed but only in the minds of London doctors.

At St Bartholomew’s, known to all as Barts, in 1969 I was told that it was not only the oldest hospital in the English-speaking world but the best.

The generation before me were told that it was the oldest in the British Empire.

“Once you’re qualified just mention you were Barts trained and all will be well.”

In the real world I soon discovered that nobody cares where you qualified.

Telling everyone I was a 'Bart’s man' was as impressive telling people I’m a Torquay United supporter.

Today, I would never say 'Bart’s man' since most medical students are women but in my year of about 120 students there were only 12 women.

In the UK there are now only five London medical schools but 28 outside London including Plymouth and Exeter and the standards are high everywhere.

But, once qualified no one cares which university anyone attended.

Interviews and medical jobs depend on how well a doctor has performed after qualifying.  

Before starting my course, I had a medical from my GP who had qualified from the same medical school.

He gave me some great advice: “Work hard and pass your exams. Once qualified you can learn how to be a doctor.”