UKMEDProfessor Steve Thornton is the Vice Principal (Health) at Queen Mary University of London and is a consultant obstetrician at Barts and the London. Here he introduces the potential of the UK Medical Education Database (UKMED) as the chair of its Advisory Board.

The UK Medical Education Database (UKMED) has been set up to help understand medical students’ journeys from their early education into their professional career. This is achieved by bringing together data previously held separately, for instance doctors’ performance at medical school and during postgraduate training, to make sure we get a full picture of medical education and training, and can better identify evidence to support education and training policy.

The UKMED project marks the first time that organisations from across the health sector have shared data in this way. Collaborators include the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, British Medical Association, Conference of Postgraduate Medical Deans, General Medical Council, Medical Schools Council, NHS in the four nations, UK Foundation Programme Office, and admission test providers.

We know how important it is to make sure we use doctors’ data fairly and lawfully, and we have taken our data protection obligations seriously from the outset of UKMED. The purpose of linking the data is not to track or investigate individuals, but to discover trends that occur in medical selection, education, training and careers. Applications for access to the data are carefully scrutinised by an academic panel, as are the findings before they are published.  Identifying information is removed or replaced with pseudonyms before the data are released to researchers so that individuals cannot be identified in the research data or the results, and access is only possible in a secure online environment to further protect the information.

We believe that important decisions in medical education must be based on evidence and UKMED is a powerful tool to help us achieve this. The research could be a game-changer and here is why:

  1. Widening participation
    Widening participation in medicine is on everyone’s agenda, but up until now there has been little evidence of which interventions are effective. UKMED has the potential to provide answers to questions such as: do graduate entry courses enable more non-traditional applicants to start a career in medicine and thrive? (See UKMEDP02 by Garrud et al.) Motivational stories are emerging already, such as Kumwenda et al (2017), which reveals that students from state schools are two times more likely to graduate in the top 10% of their class than students from independent schools.
  2. Recruitment to primary care
    GP recruitment is falling as pressure on primary care increases. Using UKMED data, Gale et al (2017) discovered a number of factors associated with junior doctors’ decisions to enter general practice. These varied from being non-white or female to the impact of specific medical schools.  This shows a link between recruitment to GP training and the widening participation agenda.
  3. Workforce planning
    A key aim for policy makers is to align the number of specialists with future workforce demands. Several projects are underway to understand who enters specialty training and what helps them succeed (See UKMEDP22 by Chalkley et al).
  4. Student support
    Some doctors experience serious difficulties and although the numbers are relatively small, these could be reduced if the risk factors were picked up earlier. The work of Tiffin et al. (See research article) draws attention to findings such as the association of low confidence with the likelihood of health-related fitness to practise issues. These factors could potentially be identified on admission to medical school and used to better support students who may be at greater risk of events that would result in fitness to practise declarations.
  5. Fairness in assessment
    In order for entry to medicine to be based on ability, gaps in attainment need to be better understood. Selection tests into medicine as well as assessment throughout a medical career could benefit from an enhanced body of data to underpin their development (See UKMEDP42 by Galloway et al).

UKMED is a unique development in our sector and we are still in the early stages. As the first studies using UKMED reach wider audiences, we are keen to hear about key questions that need to be addressed and whether additional data should be linked to the existing database. If you are interested in conducting research or have any comments, please get in touch via the UKMED website.