Third-year medical students in Wales have been offered the chance to spend the whole year in general practice as part of a scheme to address a severe shortfall of GPs in rural areas.
Starting last month, 12 students from Cardiff University have signed up to the GP-based training which will replace the traditional hospital rotation.
The programme – which is the first of its kind in Wales – is being done in partnership with Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities and will see students spend half the week in a GP surgery and half doing the same tutorials and lectures as their classmates online.
It emulates schemes – known as longitudinal integrated clerkships – that have long been in place in the US and rural Australia and have been proven to increase the number of students who opt for GP careers in difficult to recruit areas such as remote communities.
The year-long immersion in general practice will allow students to follow patients through their care and even going with them to outpatient appointments and doing ward visits, explained Dr Alan Stone, a GP and module convenor at the University of Cardiff Medical School.
It has been rolled out ahead of a plans to enable medical students to do their entire degree in Bangor from 2019.
The Welsh government announced an additional 20 medical student places in Bangor and 20 in Aberystwyth from 2019, in response to concerns that some areas were struggling to attract enough GPs to replace those retiring.
This year saw a significant rise in new medical students – the first for more than a decade – with Wales particularly boosting numbers.
Dr Stone said practices had been very keen to get involved in the scheme, which he hopes to expand to more students in the future, with 14 signing up to offer their services.
‘We were aware of the problems faced by rural practices on recruiting and retaining their workforce and we wanted to do something about it,’ said Dr Stone.
‘We have signed up five students in Bangor and seven in Aberystwyth – all volunteers – who will spend the majority of their time in general practice.’
He explained they would not just be sitting in with GPs but would be dealing with specially selected patients and would follow those patients and get to know them and not just learn about their condition in isolation.
‘It will be very much one-to-one, there is no hiding on placement when you’re doing this.
‘Other students who have done this will tell you – it makes you step up your game compared with traditional block rotations in hospital.’
Professor Siladitya Bhattacharya, head of Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, said: ‘A number of GP surgeries in Mid and North Wales face closure due to fewer GPs who can replace those who retire or leave.
‘While the Government’s Train Work Live campaign has seen an increase in the number of junior doctors choosing to work in Wales, recruitment is still a problem in rural areas.
‘At Cardiff University School of Medicine we want to train an outstanding medical workforce to serve all communities across the whole of Wales.’
Wales health secretary, Vaughan Gething, said he was keen to see the scheme up and running ahead of the roll-out of full-time North Wales medical degrees.
‘These excellent examples of collaboration between our universities will greatly help towards bringing GPs to traditionally hard to recruit areas in North and West Wales.’