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Men should be encouraged to apply to medical school

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 13 July 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:66
  1. Annabel Ferriman
  1. BMJ

    Medical schools and the government should do more to encourage male students to apply to study medicine, the annual representative meeting of the BMA agreed last week.

    The present split of about 60% female and 40% male students would lead to problems in the future when many of the women graduates would want to take time out to have children or work part-time, the representatives were told.

    James Coulston, a member of the medical students committee, who was proposing the motion, said: “Welcome to the next big problem for the NHS. This is purely and simply a numbers problem.”

    About 65% of the intake was now women, and in some places it was 75%. Yet it was clear that the “joys of motherhood” would call on many of these women students in years to come, and many of them would want to take some time off work. That trend, combined with the introduction of the European working time directive, limiting doctors' hours to 48 hours a week, was going to cause serious problems.

    Mr Coulston said that women students often performed better at A level and better at interview, looked better on paper, and often looked better in person as well. He and the other people putting forward the motion were not proposing the recruitment of equal numbers of men and women or positive discrimination in favour of men. What they wanted was to encourage more male students to look at medicine and for the government to promote its advantages as a career.

    Stephan Sanders, a medical student from Nottingham medical school, said that there were two women for every man at his school. Although that was “fantastic” from his point of view as a male medical student, from his point of view as a future doctor it was a problem.

    If the propensity to select more female than male students became entrenched, he said, medicine would become dominated by women. In the past, medicine had been dominated by men, which was not right, but in future it might be dominated by women, which would be just as bad.

    But Dr John Hyslop, a consultant radiologist from Truro, was against the motion, because it was “sexist.” Medicine was a marketplace, and if men were not interested in going into it it was because the terms and conditions were not right. He hoped that the new consultant contract might help put that right.

    Dr Michael Crowe, a GP from Leicester, said that when he had been a medical student there had been eight men to every woman, but now the “pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. There is a problem brewing and it needs correcting.” Women's family commitments would make them less willing to work unsociable hours, he claimed.

    But Dr Kate Adams, of the BMA council and the Junior Doctors Committee, was against the motion, saying that when, in the past, there had been more men in medicine than women no one had objected.

    “In Newcastle more women get in than men and they do better. Should we lower standards? I don't think so.” She added that it was wrong to think that it was only women who were going to want to work part-time in the future—many men were also showing signs of wanting to do so.

    Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA council, took issue with the claim that no one had objected when the profession was strongly dominated by men. In Liverpool, where he came from, the profession had done a great deal to encourage more women to enter general practice, and the association had done a great deal to encourage women to sit on its committees.

    The conference strongly supported the motion.

    • Last year 3355 women from the United Kingdom were given places at UK medical schools, compared with 2320 men.

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