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When I was younger, I innocently thought I could do anything. I could be anyone. I was going to be a princess, an astronaut and a doctor. I was also going to be an Olympic ice-skater. Sadly, my illustrious sporting career has not taken off; and my intergalactic dreams are, as yet, unrealised. As for a princess –there may still be time, but happily, in one area – I’ve been fortunate – I am going to be a doctor.
Medicine has long been perceived as the career for the social elite, the profession of the privileged and a job solely for those for whom it is already a family business. And because of that interested, talented and caring people are put off from pursuing a fabulously rewarding career in medicine. I believe this is a tragedy. All the untapped potential outside ‘exclusive’ social circles is wasted, patients may feel alienated from their doctors and prejudices are be reinforced. However, unlike my non-existent sport skills, there is something that can be done to help the situation.
The diagnosis has been made, it’s simple – medicine is not representative enough. The treatment may not be so straightforward but there are effective ways to turn the tide.
Widening participation to medicine is about breaking down barriers that narrow the selection pool for medical school to a certain figure in your parents’ bank account. It is about empowering children from less affluent backgrounds to attend university to study medicine. Arguably, it is also about making it possible for graduates from other subjects to bring their unique talents to a medical as well as ensuring that the workforce is as ethnically diverse as the patients we seek to treat.
Equality and diversity and inclusion are values that the NHS should hold as dear as cost-effective treatment and free access to healthcare. If we succeed, what may have been wishful thinking or a childhood fancy may become a fantastic reality, as more and more capable candidates become doctors.
Lydia Akinola is the MSC rep for the University of Sheffield
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How can the selection pool for medical students be widened? Is there an outreach scheme at your hospital or medical school that helps future medical students? Share your experiences in the comments below
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