Ethnicity still a factor in career progression among doctors

NEW research published by the GMC has found that white UK medical graduates remain more likely to pass specialty exams than their black and minority ethnic (BME) counterparts, and doctors with primary qualifications gained outside the UK or European Economic Area (EEA) are even less likely to do well in exams or recruitment.

The report found that the average exam pass rate for all UK medical graduates is 71 per cent. This rises to 75.8 per cent among white graduates and falls to 63.2 per cent for UK BME medical graduates. Pass rates for international medical graduates (IMGs) – those doctors who qualified outside the UK and EEA – are 41.4 per cent.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: "These figures need to be treated with caution. This is only the second year this data has been collated and it is too early to draw definitive conclusions about trends – that will come but only after continuous monitoring.

"This is a complex problem – not unique to medical training – and we are at the early stages of understanding its causes. Differences in the way doctors progress through training may be influenced by a range of factors, such as individual characteristics and approaches to learning, institutions’ support systems and wider socio-cultural factors. These are difficult to untangle and influence and, unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. However, we want to work with everyone involved to make the system as fair and supportive as possible."

The GMC has pledged to work with others organisations to address the issue. It commissioned University College London (UCL) to conduct independent research, including focus groups and interviews with doctors in training and those who train them.

UCL found that BME UK graduates and doctors who qualified overseas were believed to face risks of unconscious bias in assessments, recruitment and day-to-day working. Other issues included separation from their support networks outside work, difficulties in "fitting in" at work and, occasionally, overt prejudice. These risks restricted opportunities for learning, lowered morale and could in severe cases cause mental health problems.

Dr Katherine Woolf, of the UCL Medical School, said: "We hope the results of this research will be used to develop interventions to remove these barriers and improve experiences and outcomes for doctors in training and, ultimately, for patients."

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