2016 marks the 40th anniversary of our first graduates in medicine. Innovative hallmarks of the new medical school included early clinical contact, an opportunity for each student to pursue an individual research study as part of their medical education, and clinical attachments to hospitals and general practices across the region.

Whilst many of these principles have been maintained, the last 40 years have seen significant changes. The Faculty now selects 250 medical students annually and those who’ve just completed their final examinations are about to embark upon what will be an exciting and at times challenging journey through postgraduate medical training.

Our new graduates will enter a very different workplace to the one experienced by their predecessors in 1976. Clinical practice in the 21st Century involves dealing with increasing complexity, the application of technology, and fundamental changes in patient expectations – along with global economic challenges and the evolution of new healthcare systems with integrated care delivered by multidisciplinary teams.

The challenge of complexity in healthcare can be considered at a number of levels. There’s the changing demography, with increasing numbers of older people, many of whom are now living with multiple long term conditions. Or, with a shift in emphasis from treatment to prevention, there’s a need to understand the complex relationships between environmental factors and ill health, to appreciate the role of lifestyle choices in health and wellbeing, and to develop complex interventions spanning health and social care and beyond.

Advances in technology continue to be made at an almost exponential rate. Technology will have an increasingly significant impact on the delivery of healthcare, for example, by monitoring patients at home for early signs of respiratory exacerbations or cardiac failure to enable timely intervention and avoid acute admission to hospital.

Developments in genomics are already beginning to revolutionise the way that we approach the diagnosis and treatment of disease with the advent of personalised medicine, for instance, to target new therapies for cancer through detailed gene sequencing so that each patient can be offered the most effective treatment for their own specific tumour subtype.

But a key point about the application of technology is that it embraces a wide spectrum of disciplines not traditionally linked with healthcare, including engineering, the management of big data and a whole range of communication modalities that are transforming clinical practice.

Patient expectations have changed, not only in relation to the expectation of high quality care, but also driven by the ready access to information, enabling direct patient involvement in diagnosis, and in decisions about treatment. Forty years ago there were few personal computers, there was no internet and mobile ‘phones were rare, large and not very mobile. Consider how computing and communication technology, and a more equal partnership between patients and their carers, is already changing and challenging the way that medicine is practised. Imagine how this will develop over the next decades.

Congratulations to Southampton’s new doctors. Thank you to colleagues across the University and the local NHS who have played a key part in the education of tomorrow’s healthcare leaders. And good luck to our 2016 graduates as they take the next steps in an exciting career in medicine.

First student intake welcomed in 1971

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