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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The educational background and qualifications of UK medical students from ethnic minorities

IC McManus1*, Katherine Woolf2 and Jane Dacre2

Author Affiliations

1 Dept of Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK

2 Academic Centre for Medical Education, Royal Free and University College Medical School, 4th Floor, Holborn Union Building, Whittington Campus, Highgate Hill, London N19 3LW, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2008, 8:21  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-21

Published: 16 April 2008

Abstract

Background

UK medical students and doctors from ethnic minorities underperform in undergraduate and postgraduate examinations. Although it is assumed that white (W) and non-white (NW) students enter medical school with similar qualifications, neither the qualifications of NW students, nor their educational background have been looked at in detail. This study uses two large-scale databases to examine the educational attainment of W and NW students.

Methods

Attainment at GCSE and A level, and selection for medical school in relation to ethnicity, were analysed in two separate databases. The 10th cohort of the Youth Cohort Study provided data on 13,698 students taking GCSEs in 1999 in England and Wales, and their subsequent progression to A level. UCAS provided data for 1,484,650 applicants applying for admission to UK universities and colleges in 2003, 2004 and 2005, of whom 52,557 applied to medical school, and 23,443 were accepted.

Results

NW students achieve lower grades at GCSE overall, although achievement at the highest grades was similar to that of W students. NW students have higher educational aspirations, being more likely to go on to take A levels, especially in science and particularly chemistry, despite relatively lower achievement at GCSE. As a result, NW students perform less well at A level than W students, and hence NW students applying to university also have lower A-level grades than W students, both generally, and for medical school applicants. NW medical school entrants have lower A level grades than W entrants, with an effect size of about -0.10.

Conclusion

The effect size for the difference between white and non-white medical school entrants is about B0.10, which would mean that for a typical medical school examination there might be about 5 NW failures for each 4 W failures. However, this effect can only explain a portion of the overall effect size found in undergraduate and postgraduate examinations of about -0.32.