Dr Richard Darnton, Director of GP Education at the University of Cambridge, has been awarded Principal Fellow status at the Higher Education Academy (now at Advance HE). This is the Academy’s highest level of recognition, awarded to recognise the impact of education leaders who are improving teaching and strengthening the higher education environment.
Richard Darnton took up the Directorship at the General Practice Education Group (GPEG) in 2017. Since then, he has led the GP teaching faculty through a 50% increase in the number of clinical students and major expansion in the number of University GP tutors and practice-based educational environments.
The Cambridge medical course now has around 2000 students enrolled at any one time. Each year GPEG supports GP tutors working in 180 GP practices dotted across the East of England. Together they deliver at least 17 weeks of full-time medical teaching to over 1000 medical students.
The rapid growth across such a dispersed teaching faculty was achieved without compromising on student experience: feedback has remained excellent throughout.
Since COVID-19 necessitated rapid innovation throughout higher education, Richard has researched the impact of remote consulting in undergraduate general practice and provided input to national guidance for UK medical schools on this topic, helping to change attitudes nationally on remote consulting in undergraduate medical teaching. He was one of the first to analyse the nature of learning and teaching in general practice since the start of the pandemic.
Richard has also had substantial influence on a national funding settlement for medical education. This involved helping Government to understand the nature and complexity of undergraduate general practice, proposing workable funding arrangements for this discipline and drafting Annex C of the national DHSC Education and Training Tariff Guidance 2022 to 2023, which describes the nature and scope of these arrangements.
Meanwhile Richard led the introduction of a pilot preclinical course called Integrated Biomedical Problem Solving (IBiPS), which demonstrates the meaning and value of horizontal curricular integration in medicine. He has also championed the place of medical humanities in medical teaching at Cambridge, supporting a student-led medical humanities society and introducing medical humanities GP placements into the medical curriculum.
In another research programme, Richard has established a longitudinal careers survey of 3 UK medical schools, looking at student characteristics and career aspirations. Baseline findings suggest a perceived lack of research careers in GP are a turn-off for Cambridge students compared to students at the other universities. Richard explained that tackling student perceptions about the perceived lack of research careers in general practice requires action across many fronts, from involving medical students in research and development work at the Primary Care Unit where Richard is based to expanding the range and visibility of opportunities for developing a career in academic general practice.
Richard said: “Teaching undergraduate general practice is academically challenging and logistically complex. Leading this work with strategic impact has only been possible because of the expertise and commitment of our whole team. This includes those situated within the University and those distributed across the East of England.”
Professor Steve Morris, head of the Primary Care Unit, said: “Dr Darnton’s teaching faculty is unlike any other at the University of Cambridge, with a large portion of his teaching faculty in primary care centres dispersed across the east of England. Dealing with the scale and complexity of the operation demands a rigorous approach and strong leadership, and Richard, together with his outstanding team, is delivering a large chunk of the Cambridge medical curriculum very effectively. Meanwhile Richard’s research programme, innovation and influence on national medical education policy is supporting UK medical schools in other ways, addressing funding challenges and exploring the future of remote consulting in medical education. Richard thoroughly deserves the award.”