Fair access to medicine? Retrospective analysis of UK medical schools application data 2009-2012 using three measures of socioeconomic status

BMC Med Educ. 2016 Jan 13:16:11. doi: 10.1186/s12909-016-0536-1.


Background: Medical students have historically largely come from more affluent parts of society, leading many countries to seek to broaden access to medical careers on the grounds of social justice and the perceived benefits of greater workforce diversity. The aim of this study was to examine variation in socioeconomic status (SES) of applicants to study medicine and applicants with an accepted offer from a medical school, comparing the four UK countries and individual medical schools.

Methods: Retrospective analysis of application data for 22 UK medical schools 2009/10-2011/12. Data were analysed for all 32,964 UK-domiciled applicants aged <20 years to 22 non-graduate medical schools requiring applicants to sit the United Kingdom Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT). Rates of applicants and accepted offers were compared using three measures of SES: (1) Postcode-assigned Index of Multiple Deprivation score (IMD); (2) School type; (3) Parental occupation measured by the National Statistics Socio Economic Classification (NS-SEC).

Results: There is a marked social gradient of applicants and applicants with accepted offers with, depending on UK country of residence, 19.7-34.5% of applicants living in the most affluent tenth of postcodes vs 1.8-5.7% in the least affluent tenth. However, the majority of applicants in all postcodes had parents in the highest SES occupational group (NS-SEC1). Applicants resident in the most deprived postcodes, with parents from lower SES occupational groups (NS-SEC4/5) and attending non-selective state schools were less likely to obtain an accepted offer of a place at medical school further steepening the observed social gradient. Medical schools varied significantly in the percentage of individuals from NS-SEC 4/5 applying (2.3%-8.4%) and gaining an accepted offer (1.2%-7.7%).

Conclusion: Regardless of the measure, those from less affluent backgrounds are less likely to apply and less likely to gain an accepted offer to study medicine. Postcode-based measures such as IMD may be misleading, but individual measures like NS-SEC can be gamed by applicants. The previously unreported variation between UK countries and between medical schools warrants further investigation as it implies solutions are available but inconsistently applied.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Education, Premedical / economics*
  • Education, Premedical / statistics & numerical data
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • School Admission Criteria / trends*
  • Schools, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult