A group of leading international medical schools, led by Scotland’s University of Dundee, have announced plans to create the world’s first online medical school.

More than 50 institutions in 16 countries have helped plan the International Virtual Medical School, which is planned to open in the summer of 2004.

All of Scotland’s five medical schools, at the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St. Andrews, are involved in the programme. Initial financing has been provided by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

The virtual school would allow students around the world to pursue a medical education through a combination of computer-based learning and clinical experience in local health facilities.

Like students enrolled in traditional programs, students in the virtual medical school would spend their first two years immersed in an intensive study of basic sciences and the next two to three years applying their knowledge in clinical settings. However, rather than learning in a classroom, they would take online courses, engage in online group activities, and access into computerised databases and virtual practices.

During the first two years of the curriculum, about 70% of the students’ time would be taken up by distance learning, and the remainder by working in a community setting like a clinic or hospital. After that, about 30% of the course would be delivered by computer-based learning and 70% through working in a practice setting.

One of the central aims of the initiative is to try and counteract the "brain drain" of students from developing countries who, having left to pursue a medical education, often don’t return.

Degrees will be granted by the individual medical schools participating in the project, states a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Among the American medical schools participating in the project are those at Brown, Wake Forest, and West Virginia Universities, and the University of Miami.