Widening opportunities for all to study medicine

Published: 10 December 2014

The University of Glasgow has welcomed a report on widening access to Medical Schools regardless of socio-economic background.

The University of Glasgow has welcomed a report on widening access to Medical Schools regardless of socio-economic background.

A recent report commissioned by the Medical Schools Council, the representative body for all medical schools in the UK, highlighted several barriers to widening participation in universities, many of which Glasgow is already working to overcome.

The Selecting for Excellence report found that half of UK secondary schools and colleges did not provide a single applicant to medicine in recent years.

The report says 20% of schools provide 80% of applicants to medicine, with grammar or independent schools responsible for about half of all medicine applicants.

The authors of the report make a number of recommendations, including the expansion of outreach activity, the provision of more work experience for students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the NHS, and the use of more ‘contextualised’ admission processes. A series of 10-year targets have been set to monitor progress.

Glasgow has seen an increase in the average number of entrants to its Medical School from the 40% most deprived areas from 10.6 students between 2009-11 to 19.6 students between 2012-14.

The University has a number of activities aimed at increasing participation in Higher Education, and in medicine, including the ‘Reach’ programme. ‘Reach’ is a national project to raise awareness of and encourage, support and prepare S4-S6 pupils wishing to pursue professional degrees.

The number of entrants to Medicine from the Reach target schools increased from an average of 13.6 between 2009-11 to 29 between 2012-14.

Other measures put in place to improve widening participation in medicine, include: 

  • applying contextual information in considering WP applicants and adopts related flexibility, which allows many candidates to progress to interview, who would otherwise not have reached this stage,
  • applying a broad definition of work experience to allow for all applicants to be considered, irrespective of ability to obtain direct experience in the health sector,
  • considering applicants flexibly under ‘extenuating circumstances’ and accepts students from this process on an annual basis,
  •  involving a significant number of student ambassadors in recruitment and admissions activity to represent the diversity within the student body,
  • membership on the MBChB Admissions Committee of individual/s admitted from the WP route and Head of WP for the University,
  • not issuing interviewers with application forms, to minimise preconception from the process,
  • forging close working relationships with WP partners in the University and externally,
  • implementing a Certificate of Higher Education (Pre-med, Pre-dent) for government sponsored international students, to further increase the opportunity for student diversity on MBChB.

Professor Matthew Walters, Head of the Undergraduate Medical School at The University of Glasgow said: “We are committed to widening participation in our Medical School.  

“Through our Reach Programme and the SWAP Access to Medical Studies Programme we have increased numbers 2-3 times from our target schools and have doubled numbers from our target most-deprived postcode areas (MD40).  

“We have achieved this by setting up well thought-out widening participation programmes, which help with access, but also crucially prepare applicants for successful medical study once they enter here.  

“To ensure we admit the most talented applicants, irrespective of background, we have also set up a contextualised admissions process. This utilises student profiles achieved by participants in Reach and also considers the environment in which an applicant has completed their education, to ensure the admissions process is fair, but robust and transparent, and each applicant has an equal chance of entry based on their academic potential and ability, not on the school which they attended.”  


Case study:

Cameron Kay, 20, from Kelvindale is a third-year Medicine student at The University of Glasgow. Cameron took part in the Reach programme at Cleveden Secondary School in Glasgow

The latest statistics from the School show that 23% of pupils achieve three or more Highers and 28.9% of pupils receive free meals.

“I wasn’t one of those people that always wanted to be a doctor,” says Cameron. “I really only started thinking about it in fifth year when I was researching careers related to science. I really liked chemistry and physics and I didn’t take biology until sixth year.”

“Neither of my parents are from medical backgrounds – though both of them had gone to the University of Glasgow. My younger sister is interested in studying music. Financially we’re no worse-off than anyone else.

“I’d heard about the Reach programme through a friend at school, as I hadn’t originally been chosen to participate as the school generally picked students they already knew were interested in pursuing professional degrees.

“So I went to the deputy headteacher who was very supportive and I got involved. The Reach programme was excellent. It really helped with interview training and gave you an idea of what university was like with a summer school. At the summer school they ran mock consultations and taught you clinical skills, like Cardiovascular Examination.

“By taking part in the programme the University can help you out by giving a discount on grades or UK clinical aptitude test (UKCAT) scores. I didn’t need any help for my grades but I did need help with the UKCAT score – which involves psychometric testing of topics such as Situational Judgement.

“My parents were surprised – and probably a bit skeptical – when I said I wanted to do medicine but they were supportive.

“I had another friend who also wanted to do medicine and got into the Reach programme too, but most of my other friends and classmates went on to study a variety of other things like hairdressing, environmental studies, computing and personal training.

“Amongst my peers the general sentiment was supportive, though the careers officer at school wasn’t convinced I could do it, which knocked my confidence a bit but Reach really opened up the possibility.

“I think it’s really important to widen the diversity of medical students as people have different life experiences and Reach helps people have the same chances regardless of background or where they are from.

“Some people do have it easier than others just now. For example, work experience was hard for me to get.  I eventually managed to get a days experience with a doctor through a friend ‘s uncle’s brother. Also, my Gran pestered her GP to give me experience and luckily, just by chance a friend of a friend’s mother who was a nurse got a doctor to help me.

"In the end I was quite lucky but it took two years of trying to get work experience. For people who have doctors in the family it’s a lot easier but they are placing less emphasis on work experience now, which is good."

Media enquiries: stuart.forsyth@glasgow.ac.uk / 0141 330 4831

First published: 10 December 2014