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Creativity in Medical School Education: Enhancing the Diagnostic Skills of Tomorrow’s Doctors

   School of Psychology and Wellbeing

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  Dr Kathryn Friedlander, Dr Philip Fine, Dr Claire Stewart  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This is a Psychology project, in the applied field of medical creativity. Medical experience is not therefore necessary, but a background in Psychology and good data analysis skills are essential.

In the last decade, there has been extensive debate concerning the relative merits of evidence-based medicine compared to intuitive clinical judgment. While evidence-based medicine, grounded in clinical research, offers the reassurance of standardized protocols, it has been seen as over-reductionist. Doctors often deal with uncertainties, sifting through incomplete, potentially conflicting and imprecise data in order to arrive at a diagnostic hypothesis, and must work off-protocol on occasions where this is in the best interests of patients.

Keeping an open mind is seen by many as key to successful diagnosis. Avoiding fixation upon one particular approach, coming up with multiple alternative interpretations, and producing innovative solutions to non-standard problems are all markers of creativity – and specifically, of divergent thinking. Yet current medical student selection procedures focus primarily upon ‘soft skills’ and academic aptitude, in tasks which are convergent in nature: that is, they lead to only one correct solution, deduced through the application of logic, ethics or established protocols.

Working together with our Medical School at the University of Buckingham, you will collaborate with Medical School clinical educators and your supervisors in the Psychology Department to enhance our knowledge of the role of creativity in medical diagnostic skills. You will join an existing longitudinal study looking at the progress of medical students from selection to the completion of their 3rd year of study. The role will involve the transcription and analysis of existing selection data, the application of psychological theory in the field of creativity to all aspects of student progression, and the development of a novel paradigm to evaluate the efficacy of training programmes offered by the Medical School over the course of the medical programme. A good standard of English, and sound statistical skills are required.

The supervisory team is made up of:

- Dr Kathryn Friedlander ( whose research focuses upon expertise development and motivational drivers in cognitive and creative performance domains; divergent thinking and its relationship to fluid intelligence and creativity; insight problems and the ‘Aha!’ moment; and medical education and diagnostic biases;
- Dr Philip Fine ( whose research focuses upon expertise development, creativity, and the relationship between executive functions, working memory, fluid intelligence and divergent thinking.
- Dr Claire Stewart (, Assessment Lead at the University of Buckingham Medical School. Claire is a qualified GP, whose MSc examined the procedures used in medical school student selection. She is engaged in active research into in psychometric and academic assessment in the medical education field.

Kathryn and Philip are currently co-editing a Frontiers Research Topic on Creativity ( to which they have also contributed.

In terms of entry qualifications, PhD applicants must hold at least a 2:1 Honours degree in Psychology or an associated subject at Undergraduate level (including at least a 2:1 in their final year dissertation, and a good working knowledge of research design and stats), and would typically be expected to have an MSc degree (or equivalent) although this may be waived in the case of an exceptional applicant. The candidate should be enthusiastic about the research area and have excellent written and oral communication skills along with experience of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Good data-handling and stats ability would be an advantage, as this project will involve the analysis of large data-sets.

Continuation on the PhD will be subject to suitable progress, assessed after one year.

You will join the CREATE research hub at the University of Buckingham This is a thriving, friendly and supportive centre of research activity, which welcomes applications from potential MSc and PhD candidates across a wide range of related topic areas. We are founder members of the ‘UK Creativity Researchers’ group. To explore further, read our blog

Funding Notes

Applications are invited for full-time study. This is an open call for home, EU and overseas candidates. Study fees will be waived for the successful candidate, although accommodation and subsistence will still need to be self-funded. After progression is confirmed, there may be teaching opportunities for suitable students. We are looking for the successful candidate to begin no later than end Jan 2020.

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed] quoting the reference ‘PHD-MEDICAL-THINKING’ or by contacting Rosie Morgan in our Admissions department ((0)1280 828227).


Applicants for this opportunity must upload a single document including a covering letter and brief CV, outlining (a) how their previous experience supports their application to pursue a PhD by research in Psychology; (b) what their particular interest in the project is and (c) how their experience/interests suit them for this particular study. The names of two academic referees should be included, but would only be approached in the event that the applicant was shortlisted. Please refer to the code PHD-MEDICAL-THINKING in your application.

Applicants will be shortlisted for interview after the closing date of 30 November 2019. We will therefore acknowledge your application, but you my not hear further from us until after all applications are received.
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