A PROJECT to encourage young Scots from deprived backgrounds to aim for a university course in medicine or veterinary science is to be launched this summer.
Fourteen-year-olds from schools which have traditionally sent few pupils to university will be set psychometric personality tests to see if they have the aptitude and intelligence.
The Widening Access to Medicine scheme will offer masterclasses and work experience in hospitals, GP surgeries and medical schools.
"The most important thing is the encouragement and the belief that they can do it," Mary Ann Lumsden, associate dean for admissions at Glasgow University, said. In 2001, just 1 per cent of medical school places went to students from unskilled backgrounds and 7 per cent to students from skilled manual homes. Students from professional families took 36 per cent of the places.
Medical academics across England and Wales are watching the Scottish scheme with interest.
The move comes as Edinburgh University announced plans to go beyond academic qualifications as a criterion for admission. It will look at applicants' commitment to higher education, motivation, suitability for the course they want and their "personal resourcefulness." Teacher judgments will be key.
Directors of education will collaborate with the five Scottish medical schools and Stirling University to identify schools. Students on track to achieve five Standard grades will volunteer for the test or be put forward by a teacher.
"We will try to identify people who may not have thought of a career in health or medicine ," Dr Lumsden said. "But we are not going to drop our entry requirements. We want to encourage these young people to achieve them."
When they return in August for the new session, the 14-year-olds will sit multiple-choice psychometric tests which rate personality characteristics such as narcissism, aloofness, empathy and self-confidence as well as their ability to think ethically. They will also be set problem-solving tests to rate their logical reasoning.
Those who rate badly in the test but still want to take part will not be turned away, she said. "We then aim to make sure they really understand what a career in a health or veterinary profession means. We will organise work exposure and work placements, get them into the work and university environment and arrange for students or GPs to visit the schools."
Dr Lumsden warned: "This is a very long-term commitment and, if there is no support from parents or staff, it will fail." If the scheme does prove itself, she would then like to see primary children screened for aptitude Psychometric tests are hugely controversial in medical education with detractors saying that the personality traits they measure will change as students mature.
But Dr Lumsden is unrepentant. "We need more doctors and doctors who are representative of all patient groups. We need to broaden the pool of people applying to do medicine. Some people just don't get the opportunity, but there is no reason to believe they are less intelligent."
The project has secured pound;320,000 funding from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and NHS Education for Scotland. It will run initially for two years.