Emily Saldanha is one of the GMC’s education quality assurance programme managers. Here, she describes her work with new medical schools. Universities awarding a UK medical degree can’t educate or train doctors without GMC approval.

Last month 33 schools across the UK welcomed new medical students through their doors, as the Health Secretary announced his intention to increase the number of medical schools by up to a quarter.

The process of approving a new medical school takes five years to complete because we don’t approve a school until we have seen the first cohort of medical students through to graduation.

Before the first student enrols at a new school, or on a new medical school programme, the GMC will have been working with the university behind the scenes for up to three years before the students start. As you’d expect, we use this time to look at the overall viability of the new school or course including, for example, confirming which local education providers (LEP) may be used for placements.

Ongoing quality assurance

The on-going relationship between a new medical school and the GMC is supported by visits, at least annually. A team with a broad range of experience will go into a school to make sure our agreed plans, requirements and recommendations are working in reality.

It’s a bit like an OFSTED inspection, but for medical schools.

Typically, a visiting quality assurance team will be made up of a medical student, a doctor in training, a consultant and someone who has a background in educational assessment and curriculum delivery. They are supported by two experts from the GMC.

It’s essential we have this breadth of knowledge with us, as the students we are talking to will, in just a few years, move on to become doctors in training and eventually consultants themselves.

It also gives us extra credibility, because the students recognise we’re looking at their educational programme through the eyes of doctors who have been through medical school themselves and are now working.

Speaking with students

A visit lasts one or two days. In that time we speak with students from each year, and take feedback from teachers, and the management team. The process is thorough, for example if we know year 4 and 5 students are out on placement, we’ll make arrangements to go out and see them in situ, as well as speak to their trainers and supervisors.

Talking to medical students on these visits, when they are enthusiastic about learning and keen to feed back their experiences, is one of the best parts of the job. Engaging with them is really enjoyable and rewarding, knowing they’re the next generation of doctors.

At the end of a visit we give verbal feedback to the school’s management team.  We work through the themes in our standards, called Promoting excellence, to explore what we’ve found. We could explain, for example, that a medical school needs to seek more regular feedback from its students. Our requirement 1.5 states: Organisations must demonstrate a culture that both seeks and responds to feedback from learners and educators on compliance with standards of patient safety and care, and on education and training.

The front cover of Promoting excellence: standards for medical education and training
The standards set out in Promoting excellence came into effect on 1 January 2016

We then follow this feedback with a formal report, and refer back to these each time we return to that school to make sure our requirements and recommendations have been accepted and embedded into the programme.

A job well done

When a new school is doing a good job, it’s nice to be able to congratulate the team behind its success because we build a working relationship with them over several years, and get to know the local challenges they’ve had to face.

Working within the medical education environment, I see how the management teams at medical schools and teachers work hard to provide their students with the kind of knowledge and experience that will help them become good doctors. Handing over a positive report to the schools feels like a small but valid way of recognising those efforts.

In January 2016, the GMC released new standards called Promoting excellence, which set out new requirements for the management and delivery of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and training.

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