Intended for healthcare professionals


Ethnicity and academic performance in the UK

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 08 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d709
  1. Aneez Esmail, professor of general practice
  1. 1University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
  1. aneez.esmail{at}

White doctors and medical students do better but it is not clear why or what to do about it

In the linked systematic review (doi:10.1136/bmj.d901), Woolf and colleagues find that the ethnic origin of UK trained doctors and medical students is related to their academic performance at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.1

Entry into medical schools is highly competitive, and most students who gain a place will have high grades, more than 60% will have parents who have professional backgrounds, and most will have come from selective secondary schools.2 3 It seems counterintuitive that differences should arise in academic performance between these students from different ethnic groups who are born in the United Kingdom, especially when there is anonymous marking, “objective” clinical examinations, and machine marked tests.

Mark Thomas/SPL

A report commissioned by the Department for Education and Science on ethnicity and degree attainment in 2007 showed that black UK students and those from minority ethnic groups were less likely than white UK and Irish students to achieve good degrees (first class honours or upper second class honours).3 The most recent figures showed that among those taking …

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