As every prospective or current medical student will tell you, applying to Medicine is surely not an easy journey. The journey is unarguably more difficult for a student who comes from a disadvantaged background.
Widening participation is a scheme that aims to increase the number of young people from underrepresented groups entering higher education. Underrepresented groups include students from ethnic minority backgrounds, those from low household incomes, those who live in an area where a low proportion of individuals go on to higher education, and even students who will be the first in their families to go to university.
Over many years, Medicine has truly failed to represent the various different profiles of society. Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Authority show that a quarter of students starting their first year of medical school have had private school education and 80% of students are from wealthy and affluent backgrounds.
As a disadvantaged student myself, I am here to reassure all prospective students that with hard work and determination, it is 100% possible to secure a place at medical school. Universities actually do want many more students, like myself, to overcome these barriers and apply to medical school.
Recently, medical schools across the country and medical organisations have developed schemes and ideas to increase diversity in medical schools. The most important factor is being aware of these forms of support, in order to make that medical school application journey that little bit smoother. A few of these are listed below:
Bursaries and Scholarships:
Applying to medical school involves taking the understandably dreaded entrance exams of UCAT and /or BMAT. Such exams come at a cost and many students are unaware that if you come from a low household income, you may be eligible for bursaries/funds to pay for these exams. These links can be found below:
There are many summer programmes from organisations throughout the year that provide support with UCAT/BMAT practice, personal statement reviewing and interview support. Some organisations offer these up to costs of a large £2000! However, there is almost always an option for disadvantaged students where they can get this at a reduced cost or even completely free! My top tip is if you do not visibly see options like this available- contact and ask!
Widening Participation Outreach Programmes
Most medical schools have their own outreach programme with a set criteria. Such programmes provide really good support to disadvantaged students as early as Year 7. This includes opportunities such as university experiences/summer schools, mentoring, entrance exam support, general UCAS application help, interview practice and scholarships on starting university. Some universities even provide an option where upon completion of the programme, you may receive a reduced grade offer for up to all 3 A-Level subjects. The one specifically associated with the University of Manchester is known as the Manchester Access Programme (MAP) and more information can be found here:
Many UK universities also provide a foundation/gateway year which is one additional year prior to the traditional medical degree. They each have their own criteria and it is really important to read this very carefully. These programmes usually offer reduced grade entry requirements, and it is a great opportunity for students who don’t quite achieve their expected A-Level grades but still have all the qualities of an aspiring doctor to secure their place at medical school.
As well as this, the steady introduction to the medicine course is a positive way to ease into the medical course whilst also receiving lots of academic and tailored pastoral support.
I truly believe, as a disadvantaged student, the hardest barrier in the medicine application process is actually confirming your decision to apply to medicine without letting any stigmas, misconceptions or your personal background stopping you from doing so.