Top academic achievers should not be doctors, says leading GP

Medical schools should discard the top 5% of the most academically qualified candidates because they lack the communication skills now required in healthcare, according to a senior GP.

Dr Charles Alessi: brightest pupils not right for general practice (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Charles Alessi: brightest pupils not right for general practice (Photo: JH Lancy)

Dr Charles Alessi, co-chairman of the National Association of Primary Care, said the way medicine was developing meant that communication skills would be vital to new doctors.

He told the Commissioning Show conference in London: 'I do not believe we are training the right people because what tends to happen is that the people with the highest academic qualifications are often those who find it most difficult to communicate with people.'

GP leaders said the comments were a 'huge generalisation', but warned that the growing shortage of GPs meant academic entry criteria for the profession may need to be relaxed.

Map: where GP shortages are worst

Dr Alessi told the conference: 'The way medicine is developing, and has developed, because of the digital age and the availability of information, is that the role of the GP is much more around accompanying people.'

Those below the top 5% could find it easier to 'chat, befriend, accompany, and advise and help, rather than direct or over-complicate', he said.

'We will always need scientists but that's not the majority of what we need,' Dr Alessi argued. 'What we need is something very different. We need people who communicate, and they are people who are actually able to encompass the needs, aspirations and values of people.'

Dr Alessi said he had worked for a Canadian medical school and was trying to convince the dean to change the entry system and discard the top 5% of most academically qualified candidates.

'He thought that was completely insane but there is some sense to this,' said Dr Alessi.

GP communication skills

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker told GPonline: 'It is a huge generalisation to suggest that all of the most academically qualified candidates may lack the communication skills necessary to be a good doctor and it would be ill-advised to restrict entry to medical school based on this factor alone.

'With that said, perhaps there is a case to be made for lowering the standard A-level grades necessary to enter medical school and putting more emphasis on other means of assessment, such as interview, to take into account a broader range of criteria.

'We have a severe shortage of GPs across the country – we need to be targeting students as early as possible and showing them what a diverse and challenging career general practice can be.'

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'I don't believe we can or should generalise in this way. When there are undoubted pressures facing all doctors working in the NHS and increasing opportunities for the brightest and the best to choose alternative careers we need to ensure medicine remains a career and a profession that young people aspire to.'

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