New healthcare course to deliver for remote communities

Graduates of an innovative medical course can help to “transform” how healthcare is delivered across the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas of Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway.

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ScotGEM graduates with UHI Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Todd Walker. Photo credit: University of St Andrews

The first students to sign up for the Scottish Graduate Entry Medicine (ScotGEM) programme completed the four-year qualification this summer. 

Launched in 2018, ScotGEM is Scotland’s first ever postgraduate entry, undergraduate medical course for doctors.

The programme, open to those with an arts or science degree, has a focus on producing new doctors for remote and rural locations to meet the contemporary and future needs of NHS Scotland.

The course is being delivered through a partnership between the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee, in collaboration with UHI, NHS Highland, NHS Fife, NHS Tayside and NHS Dumfries and Galloway.

Brian Williams, Head of the School of Health, Social Care and Life Sciences at UHI, said:

“We have been working in collaboration with both Dundee and St Andrews Medical Schools to support delivery of the four-year programme which is designed to develop doctors interested in a career as a generalist practitioner working within rural medicine in Scotland.

“Students have been spending significant time working in varied locations across the Highlands.

“This means that they get to know local communities, local health needs and the best ways to deliver care in these settings.

“We hope and expect that the programme will help to transform further recruitment of doctors to both the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas of Scotland. It not only provides a fabulous opportunity for graduate students already living in the region to enter medicine and remain local, but also encourages those at later stages of their postgraduate training to return to jobs back in the Highlands.”

Over the first four years of the ScotGEM programme students have been involved in several projects supporting NHS Scotland activities and rural communities including:

  • Being involved in a medical charity in Myanmar and making connections with Scotland, including facilitating the donation of radiology equipment from NHS Highland to Yangon
  • Producing fact sheets for local clinicians in NHS Fife that supported clinical delivery when understanding of Covid-19 was extremely emergent and variable
  • Participating in the growth of local support systems for young LGBT+ people in Dumfries
  • Becoming an integral part of remote and rural communities as a volunteer vaccinator whilst in third year
  • Utilising skills and time to improve the working lives of healthcare professionals by helping them to apply new technology
  • Creating an online platform to match student volunteers with healthcare staff requesting assistance at the height of the pandemic, including offering childcare, shopping and medication delivery
  • Using social media positively to demystify medical education and encourage people to consider that medicine might be a possible career for them

Professor Todd Walker, UHI’s principal and vice-chancellor, said: “It has been a great pleasure to welcome the first cohort of students to our region.

“We supported this initiative to bring more trainee doctors into our remote and rural communities in a number of ways.

“We are also very pleased to have welcomed the ScotGEM students into our large and diverse student community throughout the Highlands and Islands and also into our thriving health and social care research environment.

“We very much hope that through their positive experiences as students they will be encouraged to practice in our region.”

Dr Claire Vincent, NHS Highland’s Lead for ScotGem, welcomed the achievements of the first wave of graduates. She said: “This first cohort are the pioneers of the course, they should take real pride in their achievement.

“Some of them have spent two and a half years of their four-year course based in Highland. This is a testament to the amazing clinicians we have here, from Campbeltown to Orkney, who have delivered the education.”