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BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0411424
  1. Lindsay Banham, fourth year medical student1,
  2. Rachel Kemp, fifth year medical student1
  1. 1University of Leeds

Doctors in the United Kingdom have traditionally come from the wealthy privately educated backgrounds. Lindsay Banham and Rachel Kemp are involved in a project to expand intake from lower socioeconomic groups

Next time you sit in a UK lecture theatre or tutorial, take a look at your colleagues. Many will have professional parents and a large percentage will have attended a fee paying school. You may also notice a lack of people from some ethnic groups, particularly Afro-Caribbean and Bangladeshi people.1 Whatever your ethnic background, belonging to a low socioeconomic group means that you are much less likely to become a doctor.2 But doctors have never really represented the British population and as long as there are enough doctors, does it really matter what their background is?3

Recent reports propose reasons why the medical profession should reflect the makeup of the British population more fairly. Doctors primarily solve problems. But if they do not have the experience to understand and acknowledge some of these difficulties as a group, sections of the population may go untreated and unrepresented.34 With reducing health inequalities high on the government's agenda,5 doctors from wider backgrounds may be essential in accessing underserved groups.

Furthermore, these non-traditional groups contain untapped potential. A recent government report suggests that “all other things being equal, students from state schools tend to perform better at undergraduate level than students from independent schools and colleges.”6 The government's target of helping 50% of 18-30 year olds into higher education by 2010 recognises this need to harness the talent of underachievers--it is not just the individual who loses out, when their different experiences and abilities are neglected.

Reaching out not dumbing down

In 2003, almost two thirds of accepted applicants to medicine came from social classes I or II (professional and managerial) …

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