The mediators of minority ethnic underperformance in final medical school examinations

Br J Educ Psychol. 2013 Mar;83(Pt 1):135-59. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8279.2011.02060.x. Epub 2011 Dec 22.


Background: UK-trained medical students and doctors from minority ethnic groups underperform academically. It is unclear why this problem exists, which makes it difficult to know how to address it.

Aim: To investigate whether demographic and psychological factors mediate the relationship between ethnicity and final examination scores.

Sample: Two consecutive cohorts of Year 5 (final year) UCL Medical School students (n= 703; 51% minority ethnic). A total of 587 (83%) had previously completed a questionnaire in Year 3.

Methods: Participants were administered a questionnaire in 2005 and 2006 that included a short version of the NEO-PI-R, the Study Process Questionnaire, and the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) as well as socio-demographic measures. Participants were then followed up to final year (2007-2010). White and minority ethnic students' questionnaire responses and final examination grades were compared using univariate tests. The effect of ethnicity on final year grades after taking into account the questionnaire variables was calculated using hierarchical multiple linear regression.

Results: Univariate ethnic differences were found on age, personality, learning styles, living at home, first language, parental factors, and prior education. Minority ethnic students had lower final exam scores, were more likely to fail, and less likely to achieve a merit or distinction in finals. Multivariate analyses showed ethnicity predicted final exam scores even after taking into account questionnaire factors.

Conclusions: Ethnic differences in the final year performance of two cohorts of UCL medical students were not due to differences in psychological or demographic factors, which suggests alternative explanations are responsible for the ethnic attainment gap in medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Cohort Studies
  • Educational Measurement* / methods
  • Educational Measurement* / statistics & numerical data
  • Educational Status
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Minority Groups / psychology
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Motivation
  • Personality
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Schools, Medical
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult