Amid a spate of errors in medical treatments and rising consciousness among patients about their rights, university medical faculties are being forced to undergo reforms to enrich doctors’ social skills.

Efforts to do away with research-first education and emphasize clinical practice are gradually being implemented, as are steps to change the feudalistic medical office system in which professors reign and their juniors are akin to slaves.

Senior doctors lament the increasing number of young doctors who cannot communicate with their patients, nurses or even their families.

Minoru Kawai, 62, runs a shop selling sundry goods on the outskirts of Osaka. His wife died four years ago at an emergency hospital where she was rushed after falling from the second floor of their house.

While his 58-year-old wife suffered heavy lung damage when she fell, a young doctor diagnosed her as suffering from a concussion without checking for abnormalities in her brain and internal organs.

“I settled the matter out of court, but the doctor did not apologize and did not bend his head low,” Kawai recalls.

To address such problems, an increasing number of medical faculties, chiefly at state-run universities, have been accepting graduates from different departments as medical students over the past several years.

According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, 27 out of 80 universities with medical faculties nationwide have been carrying out or plan to carry out entrance exams for such students. The changes are based on U.S. practice, with the aim of providing doctors with social common sense and rich clinical experience.

“There is a large gap between U.S. medical schools and Japanese medical faculties where only students with high (marks) rather than with human qualities and aptitude (are granted places),” says Tomoharu Asami, the editor of a cram magazine for those wishing to enter medical departments.

Hirosaki University’s School of Medicine in Aomori Prefecture plans to introduce an admissions examination to transfer students in fiscal 2003. “We want our faculty to be a utopia of the Japanese version of a U.S. medical school,” professor Makoto Wakui said.

Wakui said the U.S. system cannot be introduced due to differences in the medical environment in the two countries. “But we want to educate students (in the same manner as) town doctors in the old days, who mingled freely with local residents, as an ideal.”

Gunma University’s Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Medicine at Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University, and Yamaguchi University’s School of Medicine have already introduced a system to select students based on interviews in a social setting, where teaching staff evaluate their character.

State-run universities have been asked to transform into independent organizations by April 2003, modeled on British executive agencies that are financially independent from the Education Ministry.

Experts say the future of medical faculties will be dismal if they remain as they are, because they will no longer be able to attract students. They add that the introduction of the admissions examination to transfer students is an important strategy for their survival.

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