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Innovative medical course focusing on empathetic skills turns out first cohort of qualified doctors

Dr Binta Shapiro, Dr Sam Adcock and Dr Rachel Winter

The first cohort of students from a medical course designed to help widen participation in Medicine is set to graduate this summer. 

The six-year Medicine with Foundation year course at the University of Leicester is one of only a few of its kind that exist across the UK. Aimed at those who have the ambition and potential to study Medicine but whose background makes it unlikely they will be able to meet the entry requirements for the standard five-year Medicine degree. The majority of those enrolled on the course are from the East Midlands.

Funding to help establish this major new course was provided by the Stoneygate Trust, set up by Sir Will and Lady Nadine Adderley. The support provided by the Trust also included a substantial scholarship aimed at helping students with tuition fees and living costs throughout their studies.

Students may have come from areas with low participation in higher education or are the first in their family to study at university. Entry grades are slightly lower than those of the five-year Medicine degree with successful applicants requiring three grade Bs in relevant subjects, rather than straight A grades or above. 

Unique in a number of ways, the course includes a bespoke Clinical Empathy Programme designed to nurture and grow skills in empathy from the beginning.  Its success led to the University opening the Stoneygate Centre for Empathic Care, a multi-million-pound investment to put empathy at the heart of Medical Education. 

Sara Sabur, 24, grew up on a council estate in Thurnby Lodge, Leicester, and attended a state school. She is among those graduating this summer.She said: “I was interested in medicine from a fairly young age but I wasn’t sure I could get the high grades. A careers advisor told me it might not be the course for me but thankfully I didn’t give up on my dream. 

“It’s really opened doors for me. The foundation year gave me extra time to find my feet and develop the skills needed to continue in Higher Education and Medicine. It was a huge leap from what I was used to but after that first year I felt much better prepared.

“The financial support I’ve received has also been a huge help. I grew up on a council estate and the cost of university definitely added to my apprehension. I’ve learned so much and developed as a person and doctor. Part of that has been learning how to build a rapport with patients and develop those empathetic skills needed for the profession.”

Sara is starting as a Foundation Doctor at the Leicester Royal Infirmary’s Acute Medical Unit later this summer.

Harry Dudson, 24, from Leicester’s Saffron estate, is also part of the first cohort but will graduate later having taken a year out to gain a Masters in Medical Research. 

He said: “I grew up in a single parent family, caring for my mum and my nan when she was given a terminal cancer diagnosis so joining a medical degree felt like the last place on earth for me. But that experience of the healthcare system led me to medicine. I wanted to be a force for good, I just didn’t have all the necessary resources on hand to make it happen. The foundation year gave me the opportunity I needed and thankfully I’ve been able to realise my potential.” Staff and students gathered for a celebratory event at the University’s Brookfield campus earlier this week with graduation set to take place next month (August).

Course leader Dr Sam Adcock said: “I’m proud of each and every one of them. Their achievements throughout the course speak volumes, and their determination to do well and give something back are second to none.”

Dr Rachel Winter, Associate Professor in Medical Education and Empathic Healthcare, added: “It’s fantastic that we’re developing doctors for the future and equally important is that they reflect the diverse society we live in with the empathic skills necessary for the caring profession.”   

From left to right: Dr Binta Shapiro, Module co-convenor for Medicine with Foundation Year, Course leader Dr Sam Adcock and Dr Rachel Winter, Associate Professor in Medical Education and Empathic Healthcare

Sir Will Adderley, founder of the Stoneygate Trust, which helps fund a range of scientific and educational initiatives at the University said: “The Medicine with Foundation Year was designed to put a particular emphasis on empathic healthcare to the benefit of both patients and practitioners and also attract a broader range of students, arguably with more relevant experience to better serve the local population. 

“We are delighted that the Medicine with Foundation Year has proved that with these characteristics students can and indeed have thrived on the main medical degree course.”