Updated: Aug 7, 2022
Medicine is one of the most popular degrees available. The number of applicants has been increasing year on year, but students from a widening participation background are still underrepresented in medicine. Those from a widening participation background include: low socioeconomic status, the first generation to consider higher education and schools with low progression into higher education.
How can we help these students?
The first step is to understand why the routes into medicine are more difficult for these
students. Key barriers that prohibit their entrance include cost, time, and distance from home. Family, social influence and previous educational attainment are also factors which can affect attitudes and motivation to apply. These compounded with the belief that they don’t deserve or belong in such a career serves to reinforce the belief that some professions are class dependent.
The 1997 Dearing Report championed the need to represent wider society more equally, ensuring that opportunities to study were more readily available. Since then, many universities have developed initiatives to do just that; developing outreach, student support and identifying gaps and learning new ways to build more inclusive practices.
With many universities identifying and tackling these issues, increasing applicants from a WP background would help Medicine become an accessible career. Positively encouraging those from under-represented backgrounds would dispel the stereotypes of medicine being an elitist profession.
So, how can I access medicine?
1. Widening access programmes
Many universities encourage free events to support application to medical school. For
example Leeds and Edgehill host a series of workshops and seminars to both school
and college students, to increase insight into working in medicine. Most of the information regarding these access programmes are online. Universities recognise the need to increase diversity, and thus these events are often advertised to under-represented groups. The curriculums aim to not only increase knowledge through active learning and problem solving, but also develop key skills and increase self-confidence.
Outreach programmes may specifically target those whose parents have not been to university. They aim to provide workshops, financial information and summer schools. Some programmes include a stay in halls of accommodation to give these potential students an idea of university life.
I attended one of these programmes at Manchester (The Manchester Access Programme).
Participating in this programme developed my self-belief to embark on a career in healthcare. Through taking part, I developed a relationship with the medical school and was able to partake in group work, seminars and research tasks. This included writing an assignment with a supervisor to support, help with writing my personal statement, and an interview skills workshops. Not only did they offer pastoral support to help me become self-confident and organised, but I was able to develop my broader skills including general communication, organisation and time-management. By developing these skills, I gained self-confidence and realised that medicine is in fact an achievable career for me. This self-belief allowed me to integrate into medical schools easily.
Universities include (but not limited to): Brighton and Sussex, Leeds, Manchester, Leicester and Edinburgh.
2. Foundation Programme
Not done science? No problem. Medicine has started to recognise the importance of access
courses to allow those without the formal qualifications to study Medicine. The aim of the foundation programme is to broaden core knowledge in sciences over the course of a year and allow smooth transition into the medical degree. It is an exciting way to realise opportunities. It recognises those with academic potential and allows a gateway into Medicine.
Universities include: Aberdeen, Bristol, Cardiff, Dundee, Edgehill and Keele.
3. Graduate Programme
Graduate entry Medicine is an alternative pathway for degree-holders to enter medicine. They are accelerated and take less time to complete. There are 14 Medical Schools in the UK which offer Graduate Entry Medicine with 9 of these accepting non-science degrees. Application is through UCAS and requires a personal statement, and an aptitude test. It offers the opportunity for those who are considering a change in careers or a different healthcare degree to pursue medicine.
Universities include: Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, King’s College London, Nottingham, Sheffield and Southampton.
Regardless of your background or ambition, resources and facilities are out there to facilitate and encourage diversity into medicine. Widening participation is all about levelling the playing field, opening the doors and increasing participation. I was lucky enough to find out about certain programmes which provided me with the experience and support to enter the degree and progress through it, and it means you can too.
By Dr Ammena Zahabi.