Doctorates and the medics

Max du Bois offers a wealth of insight on the comprehensive rebranding of the joint medical school founded by the Universities of York and Hull

In 2003, when the Universities of York and Hull launched their joint medical school, their aim was to create a partnership that would truly make a difference to the future of healthcare to both their region as well as on a national level.

Getting the best out of this joint venture rested on highlighting what makes Hull Medical School cutting-edge; shifting away from the proliferation of crests and ‘heritage’ brands that saturate the university medical world and focusing instead on innovation, problem solving, protecting communities and changing global healthcare delivery.

This radically different approach to a medical university required an entirely new language, tone and visual framework without which there was the risk of either missing a golden opportunity or sapping the brand’s strength.

The rebrand journey started with a thorough analysis of healthcare’s current needs, which are rapidly changing throughout the UK.  As our population grows older and their lifestyles change the types of disease people suffer from have altered. This is having a knock-on effect on the NHS and the healthcare workforce. 

Furthermore reducing budgets and changing priorities are directly impacting the services the NHS can provide. More importantly it is impacting the skills that medical professionals need to provide the best healthcare possible. 

It is no longer sufficient for staff to have in-depth medical knowledge; they need to have the practical skills and wider knowledge that helps them to understand the bigger health and social picture affecting their patients. As a result, the best medical professionals going forward are going to be the ones with the practical training, people skills and wider medical knowledge who understand the interconnectedness of illnesses.

Medical schools are starting to wake up to this changing healthcare ecosystem and patient needs, but many have been slow to change their approaches. The traditional, top ranking medical schools (like Oxford and UCL) remain focused on providing students with world-leading scientific medical knowledge. While important knowledge to have, it often means that their graduates are under-prepared for the realities of working in healthcare environments. At the other end of the spectrum more medical schools are starting to focus on preparing their students mentally and physically for life as modern medical professional.

“Creating a modern mark for a forward thinking, different kind of medical school such as Hull York Medical School involved throwing the rule book out the window.”

Hull York Medical School wanted to raise its profile and reputation as a forward-thinking medical school. They are respected in the local area but they wanted to be known across the UK as a medical school focused on training up the next generation of medical professionals. The core strengths that enable Hull York Medical School to offer this different type of medical education are:

A unique teaching approach focused on the needs of its students and the patients they serve 
Each of their courses focuses on problem-based learning and providing students with exposure to clinical environments from very early on in their courses. To further support their students they prioritises the importance of students’ communication skills. They believe that doctors should know how to talk to their patients on a personal level. This combination of practical and interpersonal skills is what makes Hull York Medical School’s education different.

A personal, supportive approach that cares about the individual 
From the moment students step onto the campuses they feel at home. The high level of personal, pastoral support available to students also makes the close-knit community feel stronger. Interestingly, even though the two campuses are 34 miles apart, the level of intimacy at Hull York Medical School is unlike any other medical school. 

Two universities coming together to benefit a bigger number of people 
Students get a better, fuller student experience because they get to experience two different university campuses and cities. They also get exposure to a greater number of people, diseases and healthcare demographics while out on their placements. In addition, the region also benefits because there are a higher number of medical professionals trained to meet the region’s wide-ranging healthcare needs.

Building a brand for Hull York Medical School that would reflect these strengths meant positioning them as an entirely different type of medical school, a modern forward-thinking school focused on delivering patient-centred care through its students. The brand needed to help them carve out their space and attract more potential students, researchers and delivery partners. 

The new brand had to promote the difference Hull York Medical School’s medical education makes to the students, the region’s communities and the wider medical world. It also needed something that differentiated them in the competitive world of medical schools. It had to appeal to prospective students, delivery partners and their staff. 

“The rebrand journey started with a thorough analysis of healthcare’s current needs, which are rapidly changing throughout the UK.” 

Breaking down the varied target audiences they wanted to reach out to was key as each one has a different perspective:

Undergraduate and Postgraduate students 
Want to study medicine but are confused by the variety of medical schools out there.

NHS and healthcare delivery partners (local hospitals, healthcare providers and healthcare commissioners) 
Decide whether to offer training placements and jobs to Hull York Medical School students. They have preconceived ideas about Hull York Medical School and the students they produce.

Staff at Hull York Medical School 
Want to become ambassadors for the school, promoting the students and their ability to produce ‘work ready graduates’.

Staff at Uni of Hull or Uni of York 
Don’t feel very emotionally or physically connected to Hull York Medical School. They see it as just another medical school/department in their university that they don’t interact with it very often. 

It was clear that the new brand had to look at all aspects of the medical school, from the website and the undergraduate prospectus, to the new building’s branding and the students’ lanyards. 

Creating a modern mark for a forward thinking, different kind of medical school such as Hull York Medical School involved throwing the rule book out the window to deliver something truly exceptional and transformational. Their vision drove this rebrand, to inspire the future medical professionals with the research, skills and knowledge they need to deliver brilliant healthcare.

Little wonder that by the time we were discussing the name of the organisation they opted to move away from the abbreviated version they had started using, and shift proudly to their full name: Hull York Medical School – creating a lasting impression for a centre of excellence that equips doctors to thrive in the realities of a rapidly changing healthcare world.

Max du Bois is Executive Director at brand design experts, Spencer du Bois.