By Dr Harry Broadhead (FY1 Doctor)
Starting medical school is an exciting and nerve-racking time, the
culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears! But starting at university
also offers a significant culture shock and often a whole new perspective
on life. For most, it is the first time living away from where they have
grown up and outside of their social norms. For context I am a current FY1
doctor who grew up in West Yorkshire in a former mining town, within a
working-class family and was the first in my family to go to university.
“80 per cent of medical school applicants coming from around only 20 per cent of schools, the majority of which were independent or grammar schools” – Social Mobility commission (1).
In 2016 the social mobility commission found only 4% of UK doctors came
from working class backgrounds (1). Growing up living in a majority working
class area where everyone was from a similar background I never felt
‘poor’ or ‘disadvantaged’. I had friends who had far less than I did; my
family went on holidays: I had a passport, whereas, many of my friends had never
had that opportunity as a child. As such, when at sixth form, applying for
medical school, I was reluctant to attend ‘widening participation’ events, I
wasn’t the minority, those initiatives were for those who were really in need. But I soon found out that I was actually in that group. As a working-class white male I was actually
in the least likely group to attend university in the UK (2).
many ways. Not only the usual moving away from home, starting
university, and usual jitters but the huge social jump. Trying to assimilate to a
different social situation was a huge internal challenge. The questions of
‘where do you ski?’ or ‘do you sail?’ were insanely common and, for
perspective, I grew up 5 minutes from a large indoor ski slope that I’ve
never been on because it’s bloody expensive, and I’m a very pale
Yorkshiremen so sailing the Med wouldn’t really work for me. These
questions amongst many others led to uncomfortable feelings, not
wanting to come across as the poor one or the one who got in through
pity, whilst not hiding your identity. I’m a proud Yorkshiremen, and a
proud working-class lad, my family have worked incredibly hard all their
lives and that is not something I ever wished to hide.
"Where do you Ski?" – So many people.
The term imposter syndrome is banded around frequently these days and
is often used to describe peoples’ normal nerves or apprehension, but I
think students from widening participation backgrounds often experience
true imposter syndrome. Oxford languages defines imposter syndrome as
the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has
been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills (3). The
sensation of feeling ‘different’ or ‘poor’ or like the one who’s got in
through charity all drive those feelings of illegitimate success or like an
‘imposter’. For me personally, this always drove my inability to feel
success, however well I did or whatever result I achieved it always felt like
I’d just survived: that I’d got away with it again, and I hadn’t been thrown out this
time. Looking back the experiences of imposter syndrome really
suppressed what should have been happy experiences. Even after passing
finals, a huge achievement, I only felt the relief that I hadn’t failed, not the
success of what I had actually achieved.
Despite these experiences (please don’t get me wrong!) I did enjoy my time
at medical school, and I did find ‘my people’ and made some amazing
friends for life. The sensation of inadequacy or feeling less deserving of a place in
medical school is baseless: research has shown that students from state
schools with similar pre-admission grades to those from independent
schools are likely to outperform them at medical school (4). So actually those
of us from widening participation backgrounds shouldn’t feel inadequate.
And for anyone applying now thinking they aren’t ‘poor’ enough or
‘disadvantaged’ enough to go to widening participation events/programs
or use contextualised offer schemes, look at what the criteria are and if
you meet them then use it!
Hope you enjoyed this read! 'Til next time!
White C. Just 4% of UK doctors come from working class backgrounds BMJ 2016; 355 :i6330 doi:10.1136/bmj.i6330
Kumwenda B, Cleland JA, Walker K, et alThe relationship between school type and academic performance at medical school: a national, multi-cohort studyBMJ Open 2017;7:e016291. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016291