A new medical school opened this week with three fifths of its intake from disadvantaged backgrounds. Edge Hill University Medical School was set up with the specific aim of diversifying the medical profession. It is one of five new medical schools that hope to attract teenagers from under-represented regions to tackle shortages of doctors in some parts of England.
The new school, at Ormskirk, west Lancashire, opened this week with 31 students, of whom 18 were from disadvantaged backgrounds. Seventeen came from its inaugural foundation year for medicine which takes on only those from state schools with below average results who have a low family income or have been in care or have faced other challenges.
Candidates who do not come from schools or families who know how to get into medicine can find themselves blocked by making the wrong GCSE choices or not doing enough relevant work experience at a very young age. Edge Hill said that it was offering an alternative route into a “career that has historically been perceived as an elite profession”. The university hopes that graduates will remain in the region after qualifying and fill some of the gaps in the area’s healthcare provision.
A study in 2014 found that four fifths of medical students in the UK came from one fifth of secondary schools and that, between 2009 and 2011, half of schools did not produce a single applicant for medicine.
John Cater, the vice-chancellor of Edge Hill, said that for students who “were poorly advised, such as with their A-level or GCSE choices, if they don’t have strengths in chemistry we build that up in the foundation year”. He suggested that some pupils did not attend schools that offered single sciences, or were not told about the importance of chemistry at GCSE, so had traditional routes to medicine blocked at the age of 14. Most had not been advised about the need to complete medical work experience before applying. “If you have a situation where most medical students come from a fifth of schools, it’s selecting by background rather than just ability”.