CWA Course Director, James Knowles

@CWA_College Course Director, James Knowles has published ground-breaking research, which he hopes will allow more and more people to have the opportunity of entering and succeeding in the medical profession.

James was inspired to conduct his research due to his passion for education. He said:

“I have a passion for education and health and if my research allows those who might previously not have had the opportunity to enter the medical profession or to work as doctors or move on to study at university then I have done my job. It is an honour to be able to teach students who have such great ambitions and drive to work in the NHS.”

James has spent eight and half years researching and writing his thesis for his Doctorate in Education with the University of Cambridge, entitled ‘Becoming Prospective Medicine Students’.

Before beginning his Doctorate, James attained a Master of Arts in Education from the Open University and a Postgraduate Certificate in Education for secondary science teaching from the University of Oxford.  His undergraduate degree was in Civil Engineering with Spanish at the University of Birmingham. He worked as a secondary school teacher before moving to CWA to teach the Access course.


James has been teaching on the Access to Medicine course at CWA for the last ten years, which allows those without a-levels to complete a year-long access course to move on to study medicine at university.

Over a two-year period, James interviewed 33 students on the course he teaches to explore the first-hand experiences of those students who occupy this unique position.

Some of the key findings of the 80,000-word long thesis included the discovery that the Access to Medicine course widens participation in HE study for those without A-Levels or equivalent level of qualification, the students who already held undergraduate degrees after finishing the course were more likely to be accepted or to succeed studying medicine at university.

James said: “The recommendations to come out of the thesis are to give those students who have not previously studied at university and do not have a-levels, the opportunity to study for a longer period of two years to allow them to develop the study skills needed to progress to university in order to bridge the gap between graduates and non-graduates. I am planning on sharing my findings with CAVA, the access awarding body so they can use this information to help them to enable more students to succeed in becoming doctors in the future.”

CWA was the first college in the country to establish the Access to Medicine course in 1993 with the support of the Universities of Cambridge and Leicester. It has since been emulated and reproduced at other colleges and sees a huge influx of applications year-on-year as one of the only routes to study medicine without A-Level qualifications.   James has been key in this expansion sitting on validation panels with representatives from Cambridge Access Validating Agency and staff from other colleges and universities.

Dr Carey Girling


Doctor Carey Girling studied on the Access to Medicine course and is now working for the NHS in a locum Acute Common Care Stem (ACCS) role. For the last several months this has meant working in COVID-19 assessment and treatment units.

He said: "I decided to study this course at CWA as it was recognised as the best of its kinds in England and was recommended by a tutor at Cambridge University Medical School.

I found the course very enjoyable, especially when sharing the experience with a wide variety of people attending. If anyone is thinking of studying an access course, then do it. It is worth the time and energy the course requires, to allow you to focus on your ambition and develop your understanding. It is a valuable course with a wealth of experience, and plenty of support with medical school applications.”

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