Fewer white men are opting for careers as doctors, a study reveals.
Fewer white men now want to work as doctors
Researchers at Oxford University say white men, who make up 44% of the UK population, accounted for 26% of new medical students in 2001.
They said medicine is increasingly dominated by white women and people from ethnic minorities, particularly those from the Asian community.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, they asked whether medicine should be more representative of the population.
For decades, medicine was the preserve of white middle class men. That has now changed. Most medical students are now female.
The ethnic mix of students has also changed. In 1974, 97% of medical students were white. In 2000, the figure was 74%.
The vast majority of ethnic minority medical students are Asian. While 7% of the UK population is Asian, they accounted for 19% of new medical students in 2001.
People from ethnic minorities are predicted to make up 30% of the medical student body by 2005.
Ethnic mix of doctors
White 72% (87%)
Black 3% (2%)
Asian 19% (7%)
Chinese 2% (1%)
Other 4% (2%)
Figures in brackets represent proportion of UK population
Professor Michael Goldacre and colleagues from the UK Medical Careers Research Group at Oxford said the figures raise "important questions" about the ethnic make up of medical students and future doctors.
"Should the ethnic mix of intake to medical schools broadly reflect the ethnic mix of the community from which students are drawn?" the researchers asked.
"If so, what should be the mechanisms to achieve such representation."
They added: "This raises important questions for policy makers."
The authors called for more research into the reasons why fewer white men are choosing medicine as a career.
"The reasons for this substantial under-representation merit further study," they said.
The study also shows that the NHS relies heavily on doctors from overseas.
One in four doctors who became a hospital consultant after 1991 trained abroad.
"They represent 15% of consultants appointed during 1964-91 and 24% of those appointed since 1991," the researchers said.
Many of these consultants are working in jobs that traditionally have been hard to fill.
"These doctors comprise a particularly high percentage of consultants in geriatric medicine, psychiatry, learning disability and genitourinary medicine."
According to the researchers, the number of doctors from overseas working in the UK is increasing.
Some 58% of all doctors who were given a licence to practise medicine in the UK in 2002 trained abroad.
Dr Sam Everington of the British Medical Association rejected suggestions that medical students should reflect the UK population.
"There are problems with the argument that the ethnic make-up of the medical workforce should reflect that of the general population," he said.
"It risks piegeon-holing doctors from ethnic minorities, and potentially creating
obstacles to their career progression.
"What is most important is that there is equality of opportunity. We need to ensure that medical schools are not discriminating against any social group, intentionally or otherwise."