Medical Groundbreakers

2 August 2018 10:59
Health innovation campus interior visual
Artist's Impression of the Health Innovation Campus

Adaptability - alongside problem solving and community-facing care - drives the ethos of Lancaster’s medical school, which admitted its first students in 2006 to produce more doctors for the underdoctored Lancashire and Cumbria area and to encourage young people from the region to go into medicine.As one of the UK’s newest (and smallest) public medical schools, Lancaster is ranked ninth in the Guardian’s Student Guide for 2018. It has broken the traditional mould by putting general practice at the heart of its mission to train doctors for the 21st century. Students deal with patients from year one and gain a considerable amount of their clinical experience on placement in primary care, in Lancashire and Cumbria. Head of Lancaster Medical School, Dr Rachel Isba says: “I think Lancaster medical students are a resilient bunch, they have to be, to catch the bus at 7am to make their way from Lancaster City to Barrow for clinical placements.

“My vision is to bring doctors to graduation who have a good understanding of their patients, but also the populations from which they are drawn and the context in which they live. We also have a good track record of producing doctors who go to work in shortage specialities such as general practice and psychiatry and who are good communicators.”

The summer of 2017 saw the graduation of the first cohort of medical students to receive a Lancaster University MBChB. From the school’s inception in 2006, until 2016, students studying on the Bailrigg campus did so under a partnership agreement with Liverpool Medical School until the General Medical Council approved its own degree awarding powers.

The school has an intake of 50 students rising to 125 in October 2019. This increase follows a successful bid for additional students after the government’s announcement of a 25% expansion in medical student places.  The next major advance will be the building of medical school premises, as part of the construction of the Lancaster University’s Health Innovation Campus (HIC), set to complete its £41m first phase in 2019. The HIC will provide a focal point for the medical school which is currently housed across campus.

Dr Isba believes that the HIC will be good news for staff, students and the local population as it will provide the kind of inter-disciplinary learning environment where a wide range of individuals and organisations can join in exploring innovative approaches to find new solutions to current and future health problems. She says “Our medical students already have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of colleagues across a range of university disciplines, as Lancaster prides itself on the fact that work around health takes place in all parts of the University. The HIC, however, will offer students the chance to cross paths with others from outside the University, including industry and the third sector.”

Having qualified at Oxford University in 2003, Dr Isba took up her current post in Lancaster in February 2017. She combines this with clinical work at North Manchester General Hospital as a consultant in paediatric public health medicine with an interest in emergency medicine - thought to be the only public health consultant to be based in an NHS emergency department in this way in England. One of her goals is to raise the profile of Lancaster Medical School. She is excited to see some of the first intake emerging from postgraduate training and becoming local GPs. This trend is likely to continue as more Lancaster graduates choose to stay in the region for postgraduate training or return later in their careers.

The complexities of predicting what kind of medics will be required in 10 years - let alone further ahead - are challenging at a time of massive medical discovery, organisational change across the NHS and alterations in population disease patterns. Recruitment of medical students from a wider range of backgrounds forms a key part of Lancaster’s strategy to train a future workforce. “There’s no fixed point, looking ahead, except that patients will always need doctors” says Dr Isba, “but graduates will need to understand more and more about the populations and communities from which individuals are drawn, and the wider determinants of health and wellbeing for those patients. And that’s what we focus on here at Lancaster Medical School.”

Health Innovation Campus

The Health Innovation Campus (HIC) which is currently under construction on a 32,000m2 site next to the University, is designed to be a game-changer for both teaching and research, by focusing on helping people to live longer and better lives and to be supported in home settings with the best digital and technological support. This will not only require the development of new materials and techniques, but also innovative ways of thinking about the way we all live, in order to improve health. HIC is funded by the University and through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Deal Fund and the European Structural and Investment Fund.

Construction of the £41 million first phase of the building, adjacent to the University’s campus, has started on site and is due to open in 2019. Work is about to begin on Phase 2, incorporating new University facilities for laboratory sciences and a new NHS diagnostic pathology for Lancashire and Cumbria. Phase 3 is still in the planning stage.  A new director, Dr Sherry Kothari has recently been appointed as Director of the Health Innovation Campus and will join the University in September 2018.

Head of the University’s Health Engagement and Innovation Team, Professor John Goodacre, who is one of the academic leads for the HIC, says: “The main intention of the HIC is to help improve population health by building on our strong reputation for interdisciplinary teaching and research. It is also intended to be a driver for economic growth in a local area where there is a lack of employment, using the strong partnerships we already have with the health sector, business and the third sector.“

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