By Ranald Leask, International Press Officer, the University of Edinburgh

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Chennai is the focus for Edinburgh today, as the challenge of tackling disease and illness, with an emphasis on some of India’s poorest communities, is discussed.

Health experts from Edinburgh are working with partners from Christian Medical College (CMC) Vellore to examine how Family Medicine, practised by doctors living and working in local communities, can be best employed to improve the health of millions of people.

Edinburgh and CMC Vellore are already working in partnership to teach a highly innovative online Master’s degree in Family Medicine. It builds on a successful diploma programme which has been run by CMC for several tears. Today I met several local family medicine students, who’d traveled to meet their fellow students face-to-face.

The course employs ‘blended learning’, mixing online teaching with in-person interactions and it’s clear that this approach has a number of advantages. It overcomes issues of geography, so that even in remote areas people can learn; it enables medical practitioners to remain in their communities and continue to treat their patients while they add to their knowledge; and it is a less costly way to learn, when compared to on-campus learning.

One student explained that, in her words, there are too many ‘quack’ doctors in India, particularly in rural areas. Standards of diagnoses are sometimes not good; too many drugs are dispensed by those who don’t know the patient and who don’t bother to investigate the ailment thoroughly; and there is a tendency to treat each problem in isolation, instead of taking into account the patient’s health overall – a so-called holistic approach.

She said that by undertaking distance learning in family medicine, she has been able to both learn and discuss with a wide range of people, debating the best way to work with fellow students and with her tutors.

The course has, since being established six months ago, attracted learners from 15 countries and applications for the next intake are at a very healthy level.

In the short video below, Dr Liz Grant and Professor David Weller, along with one of their students, explain why they believe this Master’s in Family Medicine is the correct approach.