Schools are key to raising aspirations for next generation of doctors, says Head of Leicester Medical School

Posted by pt91 at Jun 28, 2017 11:16 AM |
Universities are reaching out to teachers in new efforts to widen access to the medical profession

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 28 June 2017

Teachers and careers advisers are key to improving access to the medical profession for young people in some of the country’s most socially disadvantaged areas – but universities must reach out to give them the support that they need, says the new Head of the University of Leicester’s Medical School.

Furthermore, some areas of the country may be losing out on valuable local talent joining their healthcare services as their young people don’t receive the advice they need on applying to medical schools, or options such as foundation degrees.

Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and ‘doctor’ will often be a common choice, alongside ‘astronaut’. By the time they are deciding upon their university degree their career options have diversified greatly - and yet when it comes to medicine it is clear that it is not considered a viable option by all young people.

In fact, most of those who decide upon medicine as a profession are very likely to be from among the least disadvantaged groups.  Furthermore, according to the Medical Schools Council’s report Selecting for Excellence ‘a substantial majority (80%) of medicine applicants came from around only 20% of schools or colleges: these were more likely to be selective schools (grammar or independent) or large sixth form colleges’.

Professor Richard Holland, Head of Leicester Medical School, said: “Evidence suggests that medical school recruitment is not diverse enough.  Whilst we do very successfully draw in young people from all ethnic backgrounds, young people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to apply than those from more well-off families.  We need to work to change this.

“Learning in a group that is diverse allows medical students to begin to understand the different cultures, pressures and challenges that patients face depending on their social circumstances. This is likely to lead on to developing more understanding, compassionate doctors, who can better manage and advise their patients.

“Many students return to practise near to their family once they have qualified as doctors.  This is why it is so important to try to recruit students in to medicine from those areas that are currently ‘under-doctored’.”

Professor Holland spoke ahead of ‘A journey to medicine and healthcare’, a conference for teachers and careers advisers spearheaded by the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham, in association with the Medical Schools Council, in an effort to boost recruitment into the study of medicine by focusing on locations where young people have traditionally not applied for the subject. Uniquely for events of this type, it is being held at a school in an area of historically low recruitment, North Kesteven School in Lincoln, on Thursday 29 June.

Professor Holland added: “This is about reaching out to schools and ensuring teachers and their pupils understand what is involved in a medical career, and how best to prepare yourself for an application to medical school, if you are interested in applying.

“It is partly about raising aspirations in certain schools.  My wife came from a school which was not interested in encouraging her to realise her ambition to be a doctor. She made the decision herself and went for it – successfully. But she should have been encouraged and supported.

“Alongside encouragement and support, our approach in Leicester has been to set up a Foundation Programme that helps students from more disadvantaged backgrounds enter medicine. But Medical Schools need to ensure that they publicise these courses, so students know if they are eligible for those too.

“We need ever more doctors, so we need to work hard to raise ambitions in all our local schools. I believe this is difficult, but we are making a difference already.”

Leicester’s proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds has increased in both applications and registrations over the past three years.

From this year, Leicester’s Medical School is offering scholarships worth £9,000 to East Midlands students joining its new Foundation Year that is designed to attract more students from local state schools and lower socio-economic groups.

Students who pass the Foundation course and either choose to continue studying medicine or another related course will qualify for a further £2,000 a year scholarship funding for the rest of their degree. It means those that complete the Foundation Year and a medical degree could receive scholarships worth up to a total of £19,000.

The Foundation Year and scholarships have been make possible by a charitable trust, which has donated £2 million towards the cost.

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