Preston study shows few medical students from poor backgrounds

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More than a quarter of students at medical schools in the UK come from the most affluent parts of the country, a study by Preston researchers has found.

The study also found a higher rate of applications to study medicine from youngsters at independent schools as opposed to state schools.

Across the UK, just one in 20 applications (5.1%) came from the most deprived 10% of areas, compared to a fifth (21.9%) from the 10% most affluent communities.

While 26.1% of those who were granted a place came from these better-off areas, only one in 33 (3.1%) of successful applicants came from the poorest backgrounds.

Researchers found there is “no quick fix to widening participation, partly because gaining a place remains, rightly, largely determined by academic ability”.

Staff at Dundee University and the University of Central Lancashire analysed more than 30,000 applications to 22 different medical schools across the UK covering the three-year period from 2009-10 to 2011-12.

England had the highest rate of successful applicants from deprived areas, with 3.5% of medical students from this group, and also the lowest proportion of students from the most affluent areas (22.9%)

Figures for Scotland showed one in 50 (1.9%) of medical students were from the most deprived 10% of communities with more than a third (35.5%) from the least deprived.

In Wales, 37.7% of successful applications came from the wealthiest areas - the highest proportion in the UK - with 2.6% from the poorest areas.

Northern Ireland had the lowest proportion from the most-deprived areas, with 1.2% of medical students from this background, while one in three (33.5%) were from the most affluent communities.

The research, which was led by the University of Dundee, looked at applicants’ postcodes, the type of school they went to and their parents’ occupations.

It discovered three times the expected number of applicants had been to an independent school while state schools produced about three-quarters of the applications that were expected.

The paper, published in the journal BMC Medical Education, stated: “Admission to medical school determines the composition of the medical profession in the future, and based on this analysis, medicine in the UK will remain dominated by those from more affluent backgrounds.”

Professor Bruce Guthrie, of the University of Dundee Medical School, said: “Regardless of which measure you look at, those coming from less-affluent backgrounds are much less likely to apply to study medicine, and those that do apply are somewhat less likely to be offered a place at medical school.

“One of the major implications arising from our results is that they show that modifying selection processes is unlikely to have a major impact on widening participation because so few people from less-affluent backgrounds apply in the first place.”