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I Never Felt Poor Before Going to Medical School!

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).

Starting medical school was a real shock to the system in so

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!


  1. White C. Just 4% of UK doctors come from working class backgrounds BMJ 2016; 355 :i6330 doi:10.1136/bmj.i6330

  2. likely-go-university/


  4. 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

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