Dr Katie Petty-Saphon
CEO, Medical Schools Council
The medical profession is not just for the privileged. That’s an out of date mindset, which medical schools are working together to change.
Medical schools will often tell their students that to become a doctor is a privilege. Doctors are entrusted by the public to work with patients at their most vulnerable and to suggest the most appropriate care pathway. However, while it remains a privilege to be a doctor, medicine itself must not be perceived as career for the privileged.
80% of medical students, from just 20% of schools
A 2012 report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that medicine was substantially behind other professions in ensuring fair access.
The Medical Schools Council (MSC) therefore launched a year-long analysis of the demographics of medical students and the selection methods used across medical schools1. The findings were stark: 80% of all medical students came from just 20% of secondary schools, and in the preceding three years half of all schools in the UK had not sent a single applicant to medicine2.
Efforts to reach under-represented groups within medicine
Medical education seeks to provide a supportive environment in which all students reach their full potential through their ability, hard work and desire to care.
Medical schools already had many initiatives to widen access, including foundation courses and conducting outreach to local schools. But the MSC analysis allowed them to work together at a national level, coordinating their efforts and sharing successful methods for reaching under-represented groups.
More medical schools now offer aspirational summer schools and the number of Gateway to Medicine programmes (which are targeted at young people from educationally and socially disadvantaged backgrounds) has more than doubled over the last few years.
New, free guidance to advice for applying to medicine
There has also been a substantial improvement in the quality and availability of guidance for potential applicants, with admissions staff working through the Medical Schools Council to produce 22 free pieces of guidance ranging from the collation of all annual entry requirements to advice on work experience and personal statements.
Tracking progress within medical schools
One of the most complex aspects of this work is to evaluate progress, which involves the collection and alignment of data.
Medical schools can now consensually track the applications and medical school careers of students who may have taken part in outreach or who fulfil “widening participation” criteria. Higher education monitoring measures (such as HEAT or STROBE) can be used to assess whether targeted outreach has translated into successful applications.
State-funded students out-perform independent schools
Data are amassing on the changes that are occurring, as well as on the value of widening participation itself. A recent study found evidence that students from state-funded schools are likely to outperform students from independent schools when entering with similar grades3.
Students should have fair access to the medical degree
Medical education seeks to provide a supportive environment in which all students reach their full potential through their ability, hard work and desire to care. A meritocratic profession will be the most caring profession. This is why it is vital to ensure that any student who has the potential and desire to be an excellent doctor, regardless of background, is given a fair opportunity to earn that privilege. Not to do so would be to the detriment of the NHS.
1 Selecting for Excellence Final Report
2 Help and hindrance in widening participation: commissioned research report
3 The relationship between school type and academic performance at medical school: a national, multi-cohort study