Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Thursday, October 22, 1998 Published at 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK


Medical schools 'biased against ethnic minorities and men'

Medical schools: more likely to be women and white?

Men and people from ethnic minorities are suffering discrimination when they apply to medical schools, according to a new study.

The Council of Heads of Medical Schools (CHMS) said a study of 20,000 applicants to medical school places in 1996/7 found that men were less likely to be accepted than women at nearly half of all schools.

Women had previously been at a disadvantage, but the results may reflect the fact that girls are now doing better academically than boys at school.

The report also stated that people from ethnic minorities faced discrimination at some schools.

However, the CHMS says people from ethnic minorities account for around 25% of all applicants when they make up around 7% of the general population.

Most medical school applicants are of Asian origin.


The council admits the study, which has provoked controversy, is based on "limited" information.

It says offers of places are based on academic criteria, including A Level predictions and GCSE results, and personal qualities such as commitment to a medical career and a good bedside manner.

The research could not look at the personal qualities side of the selection procedure.

It also had no access to the academic criteria - A Level predictions - on which provisional offers were made and could only consider A Level results.

The report also found that academic success was a strong predictor of whether people would be accepted.

People with high A Level grades were most likely to gain a place.

There was evidence that students from lower socio-economic groups and those from sixth form or further education colleges were less likely to win places.

Close monitoring

The research, based on information from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, looked at 20 different factors, including sex, ethnic origin, social class, academic qualifications, subjects studied at school and whether the applicant lived near the medical school.

The council says the results of the study show cause for concern and it has published an action plan to try to tackle the problems raised.

[ image: Women are now outnumbering men in medical training]
Women are now outnumbering men in medical training
It says the study is only the first step in trying to monitor the selection process more closely.

"We feel strongly that medical schools should be fully open and transparent about their selection process and criteria," said Michael Powell of the CHMS.

He said he could only speculate on why the results showed bias against men and people from ethnic minorities.

He added that, although many medical schools may have equal opportunities policies, the results of the studies showed they may not be implementing them fully.

"They need to regularly review the policy and check it is being implemented. The results of this report came as a surprise if not a shock for medical schools. We wish to be seen to be absolutely clean," said Mr Powell.


The action plan's recommendations include proposals that:

  • Offers of places should be based on A Level results rather than predictions as this would be fairer;
  • Personal statements should be subjected to a scoring system to pick up any variation in criteria;
  • Medical schools should seek comments from the Commission for Racial Equality on their selection criteria;
  • Ethnic monitoring shoud be put in place in all schools;
  • People from ethnic minorities should be included more on selection panels.

The Commission for Racial Equality says medical schools have been slow to act on reports of racial discrimination.

It is threatening to use its powers under the Race Relations Act if they do not come up to scratch.

Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of the CRE, has called for "thorough, comprehensive action" to find out the reasons for racial discrimination by medical schools.

Dr Kamran Abbasi, assistant editor of the British Medical Journal, has praised the CHMS initiative and calls on the police and legal profession to follow its example.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

01 Aug 98 | Health
King's forms medical supercollege

Internet Links

CHMS report and action plan

Commission for Racial Equality

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99