State educated children do better at medical school

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 11 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4239
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. London

Medical students from state funded schools do better when attending medical school than their counterparts from independent schools, research published in BMJ Open has shown.1

UK researchers found that, while students from independent schools tended to enter medical training scoring slightly higher in entry tests, students from state schools were around twice as likely to graduate in the top 10% of their class.

Evidence suggests that the make up of medical students has become increasingly diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and age, but that progress has not been replicated by a similar change in the socioeconomic background of medical students.

The medical profession has been criticised for being socially exclusive and dominated by people from affluent backgrounds.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen looked at the relationship between students’ secondary school grades, the school they attended, and their performance through medical school. They analysed data from students who graduated from 33 UK medical schools between 2012 and 2013.

The study considered candidates’ demographics; pre-entry grades (UCAS tariff scores); and their pre-admission test scores (UK clinical aptitude test and graduate medical school admissions test). The study used the score each student achieved in their educational performance measure on their completion of medical school as the overall measurement of success.

The researchers found that although there was no significant difference between UCAS scores, students from independent schools scored significantly higher in their pre-admission tests compared with students from state schools.

However, over the course of medical school, state school students were more likely to outperform their independently schooled classmates.

The findings are in line with a study 2 3 of 4811 students at 12 UK medical schools, published in 2013, that also found that students from private and grammar schools performed less well at medical school than students from non-selective schools.

Jen Cleland, chair of medical education at the University of Aberdeen and lead author of the paper, said: “While this study didn’t look at why students from state schools significantly outperform students from independent schools, one possibility is that once given equal access to resources, state educated students take advantage of the opportunities available to them.

“All students who get into medical school have had to work hard, but those from state schools may have had less support, and so once they get to university, they may already have well developed non-academic attributes such as motivation and resilience, which set them up to manage medical school effectively.”

Ben Kumwenda, one of the study authors, told The BMJ: “We need to encourage more applications from state funded schools. At the moment, there is a sizeable number of students from state schools who tend to think medicine is not meant for people like them and give up thinking it would be difficult. We need to change that.”


View Abstract

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial