Disadvantage and the 'capacity to aspire' to medical school

Med Educ. 2015 Jan;49(1):73-83. doi: 10.1111/medu.12540.


Objectives: This study was designed to elucidate why students from backgrounds of lower socio-economic status (SES) and who may be first in their family (FIF) to enter university continue to be under-represented in medical schools.

Methods: Academically able high school students (n = 33) from a range of socio-economic backgrounds participated in focus groups. School careers advisors (n = 5) were interviewed. Students discussed their career and education plans and ideas about a medical career. Careers advisors discussed enablers and barriers to a medical career for their students.

Results: Students of lower SES and of FIF status attending schools situated in poorer geographic locations had limited access to suitable work experience and, despite their participation in gifted and talented classes, were considered to be at greater risk of not achieving the high level of academic achievement required for admission to medical school.

Conclusions: There is utility in exploring intersecting differences and Appardurai's theory of the 'capacity to aspire' for the purpose of understanding the causes of the under-representation of disadvantaged students in medical schools. A focused materialist approach to building the aspirations of disadvantaged students, particularly those attending schools located in poorer areas, is required if effective pre-entry equity programmes are to be developed and evaluated. Alternatively, medical schools might rethink their reliance on very high academic attainment in the admission process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aspirations, Psychological*
  • Australia
  • Career Choice
  • Female
  • Focus Groups / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Psychological Distance
  • Schools, Medical*
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology