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Surgical trials to spot budding GPs

Psychometric testing of deprived pupils aims to get more of them into medicine, Prisca Middlemiss and Cherry Canovan report

CHILDREN from deprived backgrounds are to be given controversial personality tests to see if they have the potential to become high-flying doctors or vets.

Fourteen-year-olds who show the right character traits will be given masterclasses and work experience with hospitals and GPs.

And if the project works, some organisers want to see primary children given the tests as well.

The Widening Access to Medicine scheme, launched by Scottish universities this summer, will target schools that traditionally send few pupils to university.

Children will be tested for problem-solving ability, and will take psychometric tests checking for characteristics such as narcissism, aloofness which are considered bad traits, plus empathy, self-confidence and ability to think ethically which are rated good.

Medical academics across England and Wales are watching the Scottish scheme with interest.

Professor John Hamilton, academic director at Durham University, said: "If this proves a good way of spotting aptitude and can be used as a way of encouraging youngsters, we may do something like it ourselves. This is like an arranged marriage - not politically correct but it works very well."

Professor Ilora Finlay, executive vice dean at University of Wales College of Medicine, said: "Anything which spots children who have great talent but are under adverse peer pressure is excellent."

And John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "Schemes like this are welcome in opening up future careers to people who might not otherwise think of them."

A private school head, who did not want to be named, said it was an "imaginative idea" but added: "The best way to produce good doctors is through good secondary schooling with good advice."

Psychometric testing is highly controversial, though, in the medical profession. A senior medical educator told The TES: "There is no clear evidence that narcissism is a good predictor of anything to do with the way doctors behave."

The project aims to boost numbers of medical students from unskilled backgrounds. In 2001, only 1 per cent of UK medical school places went to these students, while those from professional families took 36 per cent.

Private-school pupils took 30 per cent, while pupils from comprehensives made up 18 per cent only.

Dr Mary Ann Lumsden, associate dean for admissions at Glasgow University, said: "We will try to identify people who may not have thought of a career in medicine. But we will not drop our entry requirements. We want to encourage these young people to achieve them.Those who do badly in the tests will not be turned away."

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