Intended for healthcare professionals


Five facts about privilege and medicine in the UK

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 03 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i632
  1. Tom Moberly, editor
  1. 1BMJ Careers

1 Disadvantaged pupils less likely to apply

UK secondary school pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely than other pupils to apply to study medicine and are less likely to be accepted when they do. A study from the University of Dundee published in January 2016 showed that more than a fifth of all medical school applicants lived in the most affluent areas of the country.1

2 The most affluent social groups are over-represented

Data from the Medical Schools Council show that students from the most advantaged backgrounds make up 29% of those starting medical school.2 The council’s Selecting for Excellence group, which was set up in 2013 to widen participation in medicine, says that this compares with 1% of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

3 Pupils from private schools are over-represented

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority show that a quarter of medical students in the first year of their first degree have had a private school education, despite these schools educating just 7% of pupils across the UK.3 From 2007-08 to 2011-12 the proportion of medical students who had been privately educated fell by one percentage point.

4 Private school students perform less well

Students from private and grammar schools perform less well at medical school than students from non-selective schools. Research published in BMC Medicine of the first year exam results of 4811 students at 12 UK medical schools found that students from grammar and private schools did less well than those who were educated at non-selective schools.4

5 Trainees from private schools are less likely to become GPs

Junior doctors who attended private schools are less likely to enter general practice training than those from state schools. A report published by the Centre for Health Economics report in December 2015 showed that trainees from better-off socioeconomic backgrounds were “less likely to be based in general practice than in any other specialty.”5