The experience of widening participation students in undergraduate medical education in the UK: A qualitative systematic review

Med Teach. 2021 Apr 16;1-10. doi: 10.1080/0142159X.2021.1908976. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Most widening participation (WP) research is focused on medical school recruitment; there is a paucity of research examining whether the experience of medical school itself is an equal experience for both 'traditional' and WP students.Methods: This qualitative systematic review used the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) meta-aggregative approach to characterise the experience of undergraduate medical education in the UK from the perspective of WP students. Seven databases were searched, 27 studies were critically appraised, and 208 findings were grouped into 12 categories and four synthesised findings.Results: The majority of the research found relates to ethnic minority groups, with reports of other WP groups being less frequent. Whilst WP programmes attempt to alleviate disadvantages prior to entering university, our findings suggest that difficulties follow WP students into medical school. Unfamiliarity with higher education and lack of representation of WP staff in faculty can deter help-seeking behaviour and result in lack of trust. Furthermore, students from different backgrounds can find their identity conflicted upon entering medical school. Despite difficulties in establishing social networks with 'traditional' medical student peers, WP students form strong relationships with students from similar backgrounds.Conclusions: Ultimately, these students find that the uniqueness of their experience is a useful tool for communicating with diverse patients which they come across and are able to overcome adversity with the help of a supportive institution.

Keywords: Widening participation; meta-aggregation; qualitative systematic review.