Alternative higher degrees for surgery trainees

In writing this blog I need to declare a conflict on interest which is that I am heavily involved with the Edinburgh Surgical Sciences Qualification MSc in Surgical Sciences run jointly by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh. I will try to make this blog impartial.

Obtaining a higher degree (by higher we mean Masters or Doctorate level) has been seen as a desirable requirement for all surgeons and is an essential criterion for those with academic aspirations. The conventional way to go has been to undertake a period of academic research leading to MD or PhD (see my previous blog on this). This does not suit everyone and so we need to explore other options. By the same token, there are also students who do plan to undertake an MD or PhD but who may also want to undertake other higher degree courses as part of preparation for professional exams or because they want to explore a different subject area and gain a further qualification.

A number of courses have been developed that support these aspirations and which also meet the need for trainees to obtain a higher degree. The number of courses is quite extensive and so I do not intend to cover all of them.

MSc (MRCS level) courses

The first and best known surgery distance learning course is the award winning Edinburgh Surgical Sciences Qualification. This is a 3 year course which prepares junior trainees for practice by covering a similar syllabus as the Member ship of the Royal College of Surgeons professional examination which is sat prior to entry into higher surgical training. The course is a distance learning part time course and students can elect to progress to certificate, diploma or masters level (most choose the latter). This course has international appeal and has had students from more than 40 different countries.

The course is not specialty dependent and appeals to trainees from all surgical specialties. It also offers an opportunity to undertake a 1 year period of supervised research in the third year which often leads to a publication as well as completing the requirement for award of a Masters of Science degree by the University of Edinburgh/Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Similarly structured courses include the MSc in Surgical Science and Practice which has been set up by the University of Oxford and the MSc in Surgical Practice offered by the University of Salford. These courses are not entirely delivered by distance learning and some elements of the programme require to be delivered at the centre.

MSc Research Experience

On the more research end of the spectrum, an MSc in Surgical Science course run by Imperial College provides a basic introduction to research methodology. A similar one year full time MSc course in Surgical Skills is offered by Queen Mary University London. A separate MSc in Surgical Science run by University College London provides an exposure to research and is targeted at post MRCS trainees. Many other universities offer the opportunity for students from any discipline of medicine to undertake an MSc by Research

Subject Specific Masters Courses

An increasing number of subject specific MSc courses are popping up. The University of East Anglia run an MS on Oncoplastic Breast Surgery which is recognised by the Royal College of Surgeons of London. Queen Mary University, London offers a MSc distance learning course in aesthetic plastic surgery. The University of Liverpool offers a 2 year full time course leading to MPhil in Surgery and Oncology which can lead on to a MD or PhD. Two new Masters courses in trauma sciences are run by a collaborative comprising Barts and the London School of Medicine, Queen Mary University of London; TRAUMA.ORG and the Royal College of Surgeons of England. These courses the Masters in Trauma Sciences and a Masters in Trauma Sciences (Military & Austere) are run as distance learning programmes complimented by a summer schoolThe University of Swansea run a one year MSc in Trauma Surgery. There are a whole heap of other MSc and masters level courses on everything from robotic surgery to minimally access surgery and imaging for minimal access surgery. Search on for more information.

It is important to determine at the outset what practical value and professional benefit such masters programmes will deliver and to bear in mind that some not just targeted at medical graduates.

Intercollegiate level Masters Courses

The ChM in Surgery (ChM = Masters in Surgery) offered by the University of Edinburgh and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh is a purpose designed 2 year distance learning course designed to prepare senior trainees for the intercollegiate FRCS (Fellowship of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons) professional qualification as well as providing academic and professional skills. It offers the general surgery trainee the opportunity to explore in depth all of the surgical subspecialties relevant to general surgical practice and is taught by experienced consultants who are expert in these fields. There is a specific component of academic training designed to meet and exceed the requirements for training in critical appraisal and which also covers teaching and research methodology.

A subspecialty -tailored ChM in Urology is also offered by the University of Edinburgh and Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and has a very similar design and structure to the ChM in General Surgery. A further subspecialty -tailored ChM course in Trauma and Orthopaedics is due to be launched with the Urology ChM in September of this year.

Diploma & Masters in Medical Education

There are now a number of courses that offer either full time or part time distance learning options of training in medical education. The DipMMEd & MMEd courses at the University of Dundee were two of the first courses to become established. Similar courses are offered by amongst other the Universities of Edinburgh, Durham, Nottingham, Warwick and the Royal College of Physicians.

Masters in Business Administration

Doctors are much more commonly involved in management and business practices within the National Health Service and also in the private sector. Some individuals have gained expertise in this through undertaking a business degree such as an MBA. Opinion remains divided as to whether doctors need to have MBA’s to be usefully involved in medical management. Here is an article from the BMJ from someone who may have a conflict of interest. This article on MBA‘s is good and explains the course structure costs a little more.

So there are a number of alternative higher degrees to either replace or supplement the more traditional goals of MD or PhD. Do take advice both from your mentors and from the courses themselves to make sure they deliver what it is you need.

© 2012 SJ Wigmore

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5 Responses to Alternative higher degrees for surgery trainees

  1. An excellent MSc/Diploma/PG Cert in Medical Education is also available at Cardiff University.
    As the first UK taught programme in Med Ed (1988), the Cardiff course is highly commended and remains among the leaders in the field. As a surgical trainee and a student reaching the end of my second year on the MSc course I can highly recommend this fantastic higher degree to any surgical trainee interested in Education.
    External examiner quote:
    “This programme sets the standard against which other programmes (national and international) are measured.”

  2. Walid Sasi says:

    Another excellent MSc course is that run by Prof Tom Bates at the University of Kent (MSc in Surgical Practice) specifically aimed at higher surgical trainees in general surgery

  3. Dr.M says:

    The question is , are these degrees recognized overseas? since the mode of the study is distance learning (online)..

    • We have a huge number of overseas trainees from more than 40 different countries. The course is approved by the Royal Australasian and New Zealand College of Surgeons and by the Maltese Government. Almost all of the surgeons in Malawi have been trained through the ESSQ. We have a number of bursaries supported by Doctors for Peace and other charitable organisations to bring postgraduate surgical education to surgeons who do not have it locally available or who cannot afford fees. The University of Edinburgh has an illustrious position in medical education and is highly ranked in international rankings. So to answer your question the courses are highly regarded and recognised by many countries and they have a global presence. One of the major advantages for a distance learning degree such as this is that doctors stay in their country to do it and do not leave. Previous evidence shows that experience overseas is associated with a very low return rate and thus loss of experienced doctors from certain countries. I hope this is helpful.

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