The University of Sunderland today welcomed its first medical students as the doors opened on its new School of Medicine in a watershed moment for the city and the North East.

The School saw 50 students arrive on Monday as they embark on their journey to become a qualified doctor.

With state-of-the-art facilities already in place and dedicated partnerships with the region’s NHS trusts, the opening allows the University to offer 360° healthcare via its graduating students.

The University will now offer a full cycle of health programmes from paramedic training and nursing to pharmacy and, now, medicine. In total, 2019/20 will see more than 2,000 health professionals of the future going through the University’s doors.

As well as providing the opportunity to study medicine to students with the required talent and capability, the school will be well-placed to address the region’s chronic shortage of doctors.

Medical student Francesca Cockell, 18, of Whickham, Gateshead, today became one of the first 50 students embarking on the life-changing journey to qualifying as a doctor.

Francesca, who completed her A Levels at Emmanuel College, said: “I received a few offers from different universities but I’d been to an open day at Sunderland and I was so impressed; they made me feel like a person, not just a number.

“I like the fact that this is a university willing to accommodate medical students from all backgrounds, that the door wouldn’t be shut on you just because you come from a working class environment.”

Sir David Bell, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University, said: “I’m delighted to be welcoming our first cohort of students to the Sunderland School of Medicine.

“It is an exciting time for the women and men involved as they embark on the demanding journey to become a doctor.

“Offering a medical degree is further demonstration of the crucially important work done at, and by, the University of Sunderland. We now have a full suite of health-related disciplines which, this year, will be educating more than 2,000 future professionals. All of them will have a positive and powerful effect on the health of the city and the wider region.”

In March last year the Government announced that Sunderland was one of five places across the country granted permission to open a new medical school.

The decision fitted perfectly with the University’s ongoing commitment to improving patient care through its teaching and research across subjects including pharmacy, nursing, paramedic practice, biomedical science and now medicine.

Laura Giles, 19, from Sunderland, had attended sixth form at nearby Southmoor Academy. She said: “No one in my family has had a career in medicine, or health care for that matter, I’m the first.

“I’m so excited to get started I never thought that one day I would be going to medical school, so this is a dream come true.”

Professor Scott Wilkes, Head of School of Medicine and Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at Sunderland, said: “We are delighted to welcome our first medical students here today and we look forward to guiding and supporting them through the many exciting years of learning they have ahead.

“Part of the reason why we were named as one of the five new medical schools is our commitment to inclusivity when attracting medical students and training them to become doctors.

“We have achieved our target by using our breadth of expertise in attracting students from all backgrounds.

“We initially set ourselves the aim of attracting 15% of students from a widening participation background. We have actually achieved the figure of 25%.

“Our programme will incorporate inter-professional learning, early clinical exposure in Year 1 as well as lab based and clinical simulation teaching in our state-of-the-art facilities. We are extremely fortunate to be guided through this process by the team at our partner medical school at Keele University, who we will be working with to build our experience and knowledge.”.

Ken Bremner, Chief Executive of South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The School gives us an opportunity to develop our own home-grown talent and provide equal opportunities for people of all backgrounds to study medicine.

“The Trust has a strong working relationship with the University and, alongside our regional NHS partners, we will do all we can to support students throughout their training and medical careers to ensure that we continue to build outstanding healthcare services for local people for years to come.

“We are proud to have been involved in the development of the medical school, I would like to congratulate everyone involved on this fantastic achievement and wish the first cohort of students the very best in their future studies.”