Medical degrees ‘to be offered by apprenticeship’ in UK

medical education

By Geir O'Rourke

10 Aug 2022

People wanting to be doctors will soon have the option of skipping traditional medical school and obtaining their degree via an apprenticeship under a radical new scheme approved by the UK government.

The first new starters are anticipated to begin in September 2023 for the alternative training program, which will span five years — much like a traditional degree.

Apprentices will complete all the usual elements of a regular medical degree, plus the Medical Licensing Assessment and be eligible for provisional GMC registration on completion, according to Health Education England.

It says participants will have the bonus of earning a wage while studying, with healthcare providers also covering a portion of their training costs.

The scheme was first floated a year ago and has been met with heavy scepticism from the BMA, which has questioned how apprenticeships can offer the same standard of education as traditional medical school.

Instead, it has argued for a dramatic increase in traditional medical school places to solve the dire NHS workforce crisis.

“It will take many years to put in place the supporting structures needed to train the thousands of additional medical students needed, following a government commitment to invest in more medical school places,” it said last week.

“A rapid decision to significantly expand and increase investment in medical education and training is urgently required.”

With no organisations having signed up to so far, it is also unclear how many places will actually be made available.

But Professor Liz Hughes, Medical Director for undergraduate education at Health Education England, said it was hoped the program would open up opportunities for medical education to those unable to leave paid work entirely.

She also stressed the apprenticeship would be just as academically rigorous as a regular degree.

“There has been a traditional view of an apprentice which has proved enduring — a young person assigned to a professional, working with them over a number of years and learning from their experience,” she said in a blog post last month.

“The reality of modern apprenticeships is very different. Many apprenticeships, including law and engineering incorporate a degree alongside practical ‘on the job’ experience.”

“An apprenticeship offers the participant the ability to progress without having to leave employment, so they have the security of a job while fulfilling their potential and support with higher education institution fees through the apprenticeship levy paid by employers.”

Minister for Health Maria Caulfield also defended the idea.

“It is vital that no talented student is hindered from pursuing medicine and this new apprenticeship will make a huge difference in improving access to the profession by enabling students to earn while they learn,” she said in a statement.

“This means patients will be seen quicker by a growing workforce that is more diverse and representative of local communities, as staff continue to work hard to beat the COVID-19 backlogs.”

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