Research: Medical School Education on Myalgic Encephalomyelitis by Dr Nina Muirhead

June 8, 2021


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex multi-system disease with a significant impact on the quality of life of patients and their families, yet the majority of ME/CFS patients go unrecognised or undiagnosed.

For two decades, the medical education establishment in the UK has been challenged to remedy these failings, but little has changed. Meanwhile, there has been an exponential increase in biomedical research and an international paradigm shift in the literature, which defines ME/CFS as a multisystem disease, replacing the psychogenic narrative.

This study was designed to explore the current UK medical school education on ME/CFS and to identify challenges and opportunities relating to future ME/CFS medical education.

This new report was written by Nina Muirhead, John Muirhead, Grace Lavery, and Ben Marsh.

Dr Nina Muirhead

Comment from Dr Charles Shepherd

Dr Charles Shepherd

This important study from Dr Nina Muirhead and colleagues helps to confirm what we already know about the very poor, or even non existent way in which many medical students are being taught about ME/CFS.

However, it is encouraging to see that a significant number of medical schools in this survey are acknowledging that a problem exists and that they want to obtain reliable information on the recognition, diagnosis and management of ME/CFS which can then be included into the medical school curriculum.

One major obstacle that does still remain is the fact that no biomedical research is taking place into ME/CFS in most of the UK medical school hospitals and a significant proportion of UK medical school hospitals do not have a clinical service for people with ME/CFS that is based on a biomedical model of causation and management.

A number of medical education initiatives aimed at medical schools have been, or are now taking place:

  • The Forward ME group of charities have met with representatives from the Medical Schools Council and the GMC to discuss medical school education:
  • Dr Nina Muirhead and myself have been invited to take part in educational meetings on ME/CFS at UK medical schools – most recently at the University of Cambridge:
  • The ME Association is also very happy to send out free copies of the MEA Clinical and Research Guide (The Purple Book) to medical students and healthcare professionals.
  • A package of information on ME/CFS will be sent to all medical schools to link in with this paper.
  • The Online CPD Training Module created by Dr Muirhead and Dr Shepherd et al. is also available to Healthcare Professionals who want to learn more about ME/CFS.

Parliamentary Question

The Department of Health and Social Care has provided the following answer to a written parliamentary question from Caroline Lucas MP on behalf of Sussex & Kent ME/CFS Society:


Caroline Lucas MP:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what UK medical school teaching is provided on the chronic fatigue syndrome known as ME; whether he has plans to issue guidance on that matter; and if he will make a statement. (6252)

Tabled on: 24 May 2021


Helen Whately:

Each medical school in the England sets its own undergraduate curriculum which must meet the standards set by the General Medical Council (GMC), as the regulator of the medical profession, in its Outcomes for Graduates. The GMC expects that, in fulfilling these standards, newly qualified doctors are able to manage care needs relating to chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME).  CFS/ME is also specifically included in postgraduate medical curricula for specialties where it is most likely to be encountered, including general practice, paediatrics, tropical medicine and allergy and immunology. The Government currently has no plans to issue guidance.

The answer was submitted on 08 Jun 2021 at 10:38.

Dr Charles Shepherd, Hon Medical Adviser, ME Association

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