Targets to increase number of disadvantaged medical students

LONG-TERM targets have been set for medical schools in England to increase the number of students from disadvantaged areas.

Schools are also being encouraged to review how they use “contextual data” – such as the applicant’s postcode and whether they have spent time in care – in their admissions process.

The moves are among a number of recommendations made in the Selecting for Excellence Final Report. It was published following almost two years of work by the Selecting for Excellence group, set up in March 2013 to look at ways of widening access to medicine.

People from poorer backgrounds are currently under-represented in the profession – 80 per cent of medical school applicants come from just 20 per cent of schools and colleges, with the independent sector accounting for almost half.

The report identifies the postcodes with the lowest participation rates in terms of applications, dividing them into “quintile 1” and “quintile 2”. Over the next 10 years, a target has been set for the proportion of poorer students applying to medical school from quintile 1 to rise from five per cent in 2013 to eight per cent in 2023. The target for quintile 2 is to boost the proportion of students from nine per cent in 2013 to 12 per cent in 2023.

The report also highlights a need for medical schools to improve their outreach programmes and to offer more support to students from poorer backgrounds during their studies. Better collection of data on the socioeconomic background of all medical school applicants will be essential for tracking progress on widening participation, it argues.

New guidelines have been developed to help applicants decide what kind of work experience to pursue. And there are calls for the Medical Schools Council to work with Health Education England and other relevant bodies to increase access to work experience for those from poorer backgrounds.

Selecting for Excellence executive group chair Professor Tony Weetman said “a medical profession with access to the widest possible talent pool is essential for producing the best possible doctors.”

“The reasons why students from a lower socio-economic background do not access medical school courses are complex and will require complex solutions, but our work sets in place a framework to address these issues.”

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