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Widening participation into medicine

Read our digital feature The Right Mix, which was created in 2015, to find out how the medical profession has been diversifying its workforce.

Widening participation is an initiative that seeks to give the opportunity to anyone who has the ability and desire, whatever their background, to enter higher education.


  • Background

    In the UK, medicine and being a doctor has traditionally been seen as a career for the elite or privileged in society.

    Although the medical profession has sought to combat this over recent decades, Medical Schools Council's Selecting for Excellence report released in 2014 found that 80% of all medical students in the UK come from just 20% of schools.

    Despite efforts to increase gender parity and ethnic diversity among UK doctors, the lack of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds entering the profession is still a reality.

    With such demanding entry criteria, it is important candidates to medical schools are selected in the fairest way possible. Concerns have been raised that some students, despite having the necessary aptitude to study medicine, are being excluded from this career pathway to the detriment of the profession. 

    Read more about the Selecting for Excellence report from the Medical Schools Council's recent work on widening participation.

    Read about our events for school students held at ARM 2017 and ARM 2018


  • Why is this a problem?

    Thinking about how and why widening participation is recognised, try answering the following questions.

    • Did your parents go to university? Are your parents or anyone in your family a doctor? Did your parents job require them to have a degree from university?
    • Were you eligible for free school meals at school? Did you grow up in a single parent family? Were you ever in care or living with relatives that weren't your parents?
    • At secondary school, were you expected to achieve high grades? Were you given high expectations to aspire to, like pursuing medicine as a career?
    • What resources did you have access to at primary or secondary school? Were teachers or career advisers on hand to talk to about your career? Were you offered help with your university applications or gaining work experience to support your application?
    • Did you, your family or friends regard university as too expensive or not for 'someone like you'?

    These questions cover just a few of the reasons that determine when a student may be considered from a disadvantaged background, and therefore in the minority when it comes to the people who are successfully entering medical school, becoming doctors and treating patients in the NHS. 

    As UK demographics change and the aspirations of the NHS increase, we need to make sure medical schools select students based on merit and also encourage those with the potential to study medicine to regard it as a viable option, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances.

    Widening participation is not just about ensuring those with the potential to become a doctor are given the opportunity, but also ensuring that the NHS is reflective and understanding of the needs of its patients into the future. 

  • What is being done?

    Work experience is key to a medical school application.

    Read our advice for doctors wanting to take on students and our tips for students looking for work experience opportunities.

    All UK medical schools are required to have some kind of outreach scheme that widens access to courses that lead to professional careers, including medicine.

    The outreach schemes on offer vary, with some medical schools offering summer school for secondary students that assist with medical school applications and gaining work experience, to primary school outreach that seeks to inspire children at a young age to consider medicine.

    Universities like King's College London offer a six year extended medical degree programme, that has dedicated places for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The course uses contextual admissions data for entry and provides extra support for students by splitting the first year of medical school into two years.

    If you think you may benefit from attending an outreach scheme or from extra support, or you would like more information, contact the medical schools directly about what they could offer you.

    If how to fund postgraduate training is a concern - read our guidance on how changes to medical education funding could help you

    Read our comprehensive guide to becoming a doctor

    See our map of all medical schools in the UK

  • Useful resources

    We've pulled together some useful information and websites that can help if you need extra support with applying to medical school.

    • Get advice and tips on securing work experience placements to help your medical school application.
    • The Social Mobility Foundation is a UK wide charity established to make practical improvement for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. They run programmes, including for potential medical students, that give an insight into top professions and help students through work placements and mentoring to achieve their goals of going to university.
    • UKCAT & BMAT Bursary Programme Kaplan offers a bursary programme for students unable to fund a place on the course through other means.
    • The Brightside Trust is a charity that helps young people access education and career pathways. Their online mentoring platform supports many UK wide schemes like Realising Opportunities, that teams up with universities to promote social mobility and fair access to higher education.
    • The Sutton Trust, founded in 1997, seeks to improve social mobility through education. They fund programmes, undertake research and advocate for fair access to education. Their pathways to medicine programme is aimed at year 11 and sixth form students, assisting them academically and providing support, such as work placements, mentoring and soft skills sessions, to assist in their application to medical school.
    • Generation Medics is a social enterprise, who provide useful information for medical school applicants and holds conferences throughout the year for aspiring doctors.
    • MyBigCareer is a charity that works to break down barriers to social mobility through encouraging access to professions for the most disadvantaged young people in the country. They have set up mentoring and work experience schemes within medicine, matching young students with medical professionals.
    • Pure Potential is an independent organisation which raises the aspirations of thousands of sixth formers every year, encouraging them to apply to and achieve offers from excellent universities and leading employers. They publish a guide to universities and careers and hold regular events.
    • MedicMentor is a social enterprise and professional resource that runs several courses for prospective students, organises an annual careers fair and produced several publications.
    • Health Careers by Health Education England helps those interested in a career in healthcare and those already working in the sector
    • The Medical Schools Council represents medical schools in the UK. Check out their handy resources on applying to medical school plus more information about their ongoing work on widening participation.

    Interested to know more about the issues around equality and inclusion?

    See our equality and inclusion resources