Why students from under-represented backgrounds do not apply to medical school

Ciaran Grafton-Clarke, Luke Biggs, Jayne Garner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review


Medicine is the most competitive undergraduate course at university, and admission processes have been shown to favour those applicants from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Emphasis has been placed on widening participation initiatives to combat this; however, the effects of these have been minimal. Identifying reasons why students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are not represented in the medical school population is the main driver for this study. Using a focus group methodology, pupils from a socio-economically disadvantaged secondary school in the UK were asked about their perceptions and attitudes towards studying medicine at university. Using thematic analysis guided by Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, key areas were identified concerning student views upon perceptions of self, expectations of self, perception of university and the perceived barriers to medical schools. The study has shown a lack of knowledge and guidance in this group of secondary school students, suggesting that more innovative methods of outreach are required in order to make medicine a more achievable goal for students from under-represented backgrounds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-198
JournalWidening Participation and Lifelong Learning
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jan 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jan 2018


  • barriers
  • disadvantage
  • expectations
  • opportunity
  • perception
  • school pupils


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