Greater access is key to changing the face of the medical profession

The Birmingham Post has noted that we have increased our intake of medical students from under-represented backgrounds by almost 600% in four years.  

Lecture students 8 

The article, originally published in the Birmingham Post print edition on Thursday 13 October 2016, continued:

Despite the political chatter about foreign medical students, being British isn’t the key issue when it comes to recruiting into the profession.

With 80% of medical students coming from professional households, and over 25% privately educated, medical schools recognise they need to recruit students from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds.

The A2B programme

The University of Birmingham’s ‘Access to Birmingham’ (A2B) programme is starting to redress the balance.

The scheme supports less advantaged pupils from local state schools to apply for places at Birmingham. 34 A2B students entered the University’s Medical School this year, up from six in 2012. A2B entrants now make up 11% of the total intake, and the University has been recognised by the Medical Schools Council for its work to widen participation.

Clare Ray lectures in cardiovascular and respiratory science and leads the College’s outreach activity.

“We need doctors from all backgrounds,” she says. “They need to be able to connect with all types of patients, who benefit from seeing ‘someone like them’ in charge on the ward and in the theatre.”

A2B students have to meet criteria including attending a partner school (there are 240 West Midlands state schools and colleges in the scheme), having parents with no experience of higher education, having a household income of less than £42,600, and living in an area with low levels of progression to higher education.

Potential students are identified by their schools, and have to pass an A2B module which includes an online study skills module, preparation day and a summer assignment. If they pass, they will need slightly lower than standard A-level grades to gain a place, but this does not mean they are less able than their peers.

“It is not about giving our A2B students an advantage, but about recognising the barriers they have to overcome and levelling the playing field before they get here,” says Clare Ray.

“Universities normally look not only at A-level results but also GCSE grades and extra-curricular work experience, which is usually obtained on a ‘who you know’ basis via parental and staff contacts. A2B lets us consider the context in which students have achieved their grades and supports them to make the most of their relevant experience.”

If A2B applicants achieve the standard grades and pass the A2B module, they get a scholarship currently worth £1,500 a year.

A student perspective

A2B Liam Barrett 1

One such student is Liam Barrett, from Stechford, who went to CTC Kingshurst Academy before coming to the University of Birmingham via the A2B programme.

“I was absolutely driven to become the first doctor in my family,” he says. “I could get the grades, work hard, and do everything in my power to make myself the perfect candidate, but opportunity is key. Without it, how do you pursue the dream?Currently spending a year working in the emergency department of a hospital in Salford, Liam will return to Birmingham next year to complete his final year of medical school.

“My parents were supportive but didn’t understand how rigorous the application process was. They couldn’t help with reviewing personal statements and having the right contacts. 

“My school was really helpful and the pre-entry supervisor support and assistance was invaluable. The A2B scholarship was a real bonus: a medical student’s workload is very intense so I couldn’t take a part time job to help with living costs.”

Liam has spent summers working in Ghana and Honduras with the Global Medical Brigade, a life-changing experience.

“Studying medicine has enabled me to volunteer overseas and meet inspiring people,” he says.

“I’m so thankful to have been able to study medicine and help those less fortunate than me.”

Access to Birmingham: 10 ways it makes a difference
 
  1. One of the oldest University outreach programmes in the UK
  2. Since 2000 over 2,600 students have gained a place via the scheme
  3. 2017 will be the 10th anniversary of A2B scholarships - over 800 have been awarded
  4. Around two thirds of A2B students are from ethnic minority backgrounds
  5. In 2015 graduates who passed the A2B module were 2.7% more successful in achieving a first class degree than the overall cohort
  6. 82.4% of A2B graduates achieved a first or upper second class degree in 2015
  7. A2B applications between 2010 and 2016 have risen by 82%
  8. 77% of A2B students made the University of Birmingham their first choice after receiving an offer
  9. 6.2% of the undergraduate intake in 2016 came via A2B – that’s 340 students
  10. Each year around 70% of A2B applicants are made an offer from the University.

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