Milestone for Medical School

08 Oct 2010 11:26:05.517

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In October 1970, a small group of students started their course at The University of Nottingham and made history… as the institution’s first ever medical students.

Exactly 40 years later, the Medical School is marking the anniversary with a special event tracing its history and celebrating its international reputation for pioneering excellence in medical training.

A one-day conference will take place on Friday October 15 2010 when speakers will include: Professor Sir Peter Rubin, Chairman of the GMC; Dr Peter Toghill, one of the Medical School’s original teaching physicians; world kayak champion and alumnus Dr Tim Brabants and the new Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, Professor Sir John Savill, who will discuss the future of academic medicine.

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The idea for a Medical School at Nottingham was first mooted after World War II as healthcare in the East Midlands was historically badly under-resourced. But it was not until a grant was awarded in 1964 that the University was able to plan for the first new Medical School in England in the 20th Century.

The School grew from humble beginnings in the ‘Cow Sheds’ and ‘Caravan’ behind the Portland Building on University Park, where it was based before the Queen’s Medical Centre was opened by the Queen in 1977. Its foundation was led by the inspirational late Professor David Greenfield (Hon LLD 1997) and a team of enthusiastic and talented professors and teaching clinicians. Together they pioneered an innovative medical curriculum which became a model for clinical and academic success worldwide.

Among the first cohort of students was Dr Deborah Bliss, now a Nottingham GP. She recalls: “Three As at A level were not a pre-requisite for gaining a place at medical school in 1970 and if they had been most of us would not have stood a chance. Nor was careers advice on the school curriculum, so when my father (a University of Nottingham graduate) pointed out that a new medical school was being set up and that they might have a more modern approach than most to taking women, I applied.

“The first intake of 48 students, including 16 women, was an eclectic mix of interesting school leavers and graduates. We arrived to find the long awaited Medical School and Queen's Medical Centre buildings still on the drawing board. Staff hugely outnumbered students so all eyes were on us and the course was honed from week to week with masses of feedback forms changing hands and plenty of comment from the General Medical Council.

“The course was innovative with teaching divided between three disciplines: The Cell, Man and the Community. This was quite different from what was going on in the established schools. Face to face experience with patients was also encouraged from the first few days and I vividly remember going on to the wards in my first term with my tutor and talking to patients.

“I had a great deal of fun, often working extremely long hours but culminating in a broad knowledge with plenty of experience. I now work as a salaried GP in Carlton, Nottingham and am a GP Appraiser. Seeing patients still gives me the buzz it did years ago, but I can't say the same for medical politics and administration. I look back fondly and gratefully on the groundbreaking years at the Medical School.”

One of the first teaching clinicians at the Medical School, Dr Peter Toghill, remembers the early days well: “Our first group of clinical students were scrutinised suspiciously by the older clinicians. We needn't have worried . They were eager and well-informed with a disarming frankness which had been lacking in our own contemporaries. In fact with one to one teaching we were more apprehensive of them than they of us!”

Another alumnus, Professor David Walker (Medicine 1975), is now Professor of Paediatric Oncology and Chair of the Pickering Association, set up to foster cultural, professional and academic relations between the University and former and present students and staff. He said:

“The University was keen for feedback on the degree and we met regularly with staff to discuss it. With the very early exposure to clinical training there was a feeling we were on a revolutionary course. Our alumni are now leading healthcare institutions and practice across the East Midlands and beyond.”

Nowadays the Medical School accepts around 265 undergraduate students each year and a further 90 post-graduate students on the ‘fast-track’ Graduate Medicine course at the Royal Derby Hospital. These include many from non-scientific or medical career backgrounds like lawyers, bankers, company directors and actors. 

The School’s present day Associate Dean for Medical Education, Professor James Lowe, said: “Our most recent evaluation by the GMC, in 2009, was excellent. We now use cutting edge educational methods including a simulation centre to give students vital experience to develop their skills.”

The Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Ian Hall, said: “Forty years on, Nottingham’s medical school has an established position as one of the most popular medical schools in the country, with a track record of producing excellent doctors and groundbreaking research. However, we are not complacent. Our aims are to focus our research in areas which really matter to the health of the UK population, and to continue to develop our teaching and training so that Doctors qualifying from Nottingham are fully prepared for the challenges of 21st century medical careers”.

Archive photographs of the Medical School are available and interviews can be arranged on request.

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Times as “the nearest Britain has to a truly global university”, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 39,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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University facts and figures at:

Story credits

More information is available from Gillian Wilson Nottingham University Medical School on +44 (0)115 823 0019,

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