Academic performance of ethnic minority candidates and discrimination in the MRCGP examinations between 2010 and 2012: analysis of data

BMJ. 2013 Sep 26;347:f5662. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f5662.


Objective: To determine the difference in failure rates in the postgraduate examination of the Royal College of General Practitioners (MRCGP) by ethnic or national background, and to identify factors associated with pass rates in the clinical skills assessment component of the examination.

Design: Analysis of data provided by the Royal College of General Practitioners and the General Medical Council.

Participants: Cohort of 5095 candidates sitting the applied knowledge test and clinical skills assessment components of the MRCGP examination between November 2010 and November 2012. A further analysis was carried out on 1175 candidates not trained in the United Kingdom, who sat an English language capability test (IELTS) and the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) examination (as required for full medical registration), controlling for scores on these examinations and relating them to pass rates of the clinical skills assessment.

Setting: United Kingdom.

Results: After controlling for age, sex, and performance in the applied knowledge test, significant differences persisted between white UK graduates and other candidate groups. Black and minority ethnic graduates trained in the UK were more likely to fail the clinical skills assessment at their first attempt than their white UK colleagues (odds ratio 3.536 (95% confidence interval 2.701 to 4.629), P<0.001; failure rate 17% v 4.5%). Black and minority ethnic candidates who trained abroad were also more likely to fail the clinical skills assessment than white UK candidates (14.741 (11.397 to 19.065), P<0.001; 65% v 4.5%). For candidates not trained in the UK, black or minority ethnic candidates were more likely to fail than white candidates, but this difference was no longer significant after controlling for scores in the applied knowledge test, IELTS, and PLAB examinations (adjusted odds ratio 1.580 (95% confidence interval 0.878 to 2.845), P=0.127).

Conclusions: Subjective bias due to racial discrimination in the clinical skills assessment may be a cause of failure for UK trained candidates and international medical graduates. The difference between British black and minority ethnic candidates and British white candidates in the pass rates of the clinical skills assessment, despite controlling for prior attainment, suggests that subjective bias could also be a factor. Changes to the clinical skills assessment could improve the perception of the examination as being biased against black and minority ethnic candidates. The difference in training experience and other cultural factors between candidates trained in the UK and abroad could affect outcomes. Consideration should be given to strengthening postgraduate training for international medical graduates.

MeSH terms

  • Accreditation*
  • Bias
  • Black People / education
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data
  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Educational Measurement / methods
  • Educational Measurement / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethnicity / education
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Foreign Medical Graduates / statistics & numerical data*
  • General Practice / education*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Logistic Models
  • Minority Groups / education
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Racism*
  • Societies, Medical
  • United Kingdom
  • White People / education
  • White People / statistics & numerical data