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Student doctors to learn value of bedside manners

BRITAIN'S UNIVERSITIES are to be told to change the way they select medical students, with less emphasis on A-level grades and more on a bedside manner. The Council of Deans of Medical Schools is to issue a policy statement next month urging them to broaden their selection criteria beyond academic achievement to ensure that they produce committed doctors with the human touch for the new millennium.

Criticism that medical schools are turning out doctors who may be brilliant scientists, but lack the intuitive ear and interpersonal skills essential to good medicine, has stung the council into action.

It has commissioned a study of the selection criteria used for all applicants to medical school in 1997 - the first to be carried out - which is expected to show that A-level grades are far and away the single most important selection factor when it is published next month.

It has also been alarmed by evidence that medical schools discriminate against applicants from ethnic minorities. Although they account for more than a quarter of students in some medical schools, because of the high numbers who apply, it is harder for them to get a place than for white applicants.

Professor Stephen Tomlinson, dean of Manchester University medical school and sec- retary to the council of deans, said: "People are beginning to feel uncomfortable about the weighting put on A-level grades. There must be outstanding doctors who don't get four As. But A-level grades are the only tried and tested criterion we have."

In 1997, the average A-levels of successful applicants were better than two As and a B. Professor Tomlinson said the qualities sought in a doctor included a sense of vocation and the ability to communicate, but were not easy to measure. Psychometric testing had been tried, but results were disappointing.

Current concerns reflect a wider unease highlighted by the Bristol heart surgery disaster - blamed on professional arrogance. The General Medical Council (GMC) warned doctors last May they must treat their patients as human beings or risk being struck off.

Sir Donald Irvine, GMC president, warned that, with science and technology, the humanity of medicine was being forgotten.