Ethnic minority trainees ‘underperforming’

  • Date: 28 March 2011

ETHNIC minority doctors and medical students who trained in the UK don’t perform as well in assessments as white candidates, according to a new study in the BMJ.

An investigation into the achievements of almost 24,000 students and doctors found that those of “non-white” ethnicity underperform academically compared with their white colleagues – regardless of the type of test taken. In studies with a pass/fail outcome, non-white candidates were nearly three times more likely to fail than white candidates.

A third of all UK medical students come from ethnic minority groups, 1.6 times the proportion on other undergraduate courses. In 2009, 36 per cent of newly qualified doctors and 52 per cent of all other hospital doctors working in the NHS were from minority ethnic groups.

Katherine Woolf, lecturer in medical education at the Academic Centre for Medical Education, UCL, and lead author of the paper, said there was unlikely to be a single cause of the disparity. “What this study does is highlight the problem so that people can do further research to find out the reasons why it’s happening,” she told the BMJ.

“In particular, there hasn’t really been a joined up approach at undergraduate level. Some medical schools have looked at the role of ethnicity in their own exam results, but it would be better if all medical schools could look at their data together so we can get an idea nationally of where this problem is happening and where it’s not happening.”

Researchers looked at 22 quantitative reports on the performance of UK-trained medical students or doctors from various ethnic groups in undergraduate or postgraduate assessments. Of these, 16 covered undergraduate exams at universities such as Leeds and Nottingham and six reported on postgraduate assessments such as the MRCGP exams and the MRCP written and PACES exams.

“We’ve looked for obvious reasons, such as class, and controlled for and excluded all these things and yet studies still find a difference in performance in ethnic minorities and white individuals,” said Aneez Esmail, professor of general practice at the University of Manchester and author of an editorial on the research.

“The only possible explanation remaining is that doctors and medical students are being discriminated against because of their ethnicity.” He called on the royal colleges to address the issue, while GMC chief executive Niall Dickson told the BMJ he would be “looking closely” at the study’s findings.

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