Recruitment: How can we recruit more medical students?

There are steps the NHS can take to recruit more students to medicine, particularly those from a range of backgrounds, says Dr Patrice Baptiste.

My last article focused on how we can retain doctors earlier on in their careers. We also need to tackle the issue of recruiting students to medicine.

It is true that applications to study medicine have decreased in recent years, but by speaking to students, I have found that medicine is still a popular choice and still fiercely competitive.

However it is evident that there are fewer students from less privileged backgrounds applying to and successfully securing a place at medical school.1 It has been shown that students from private and grammar schools perform less well at medical school than students from non-selective schools.2 Privately-educated medical students are also less likely to become GPs than those from state schools.3

Furthermore, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows there are some ethnicities that are significantly under-represented at medical school. So, although we do need to recruit doctors from abroad currently, we should be focusing on long-term solutions to enable us to harness the talent here in the UK too.

What are the solutions?

Widening participation schemes
Many universities organise widening participation schemes to improve access to medicine and, although there has been some improvements in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to medical school, there is still a significant difference between the numbers of these students and those from privately-educated backgrounds. So we need to ask how effective these schemes are and whether they need to change in any way.

Connecting more doctors with students
Based on conversations with medical students and my own personal experience I don’t believe we are equipping our future doctors with sufficient knowledge of medicine as a career and the realities of what life is like as a doctor. Would more school students consider medicine as a career if they were able to engage with a medical professional and draw inspiration from them?

Through my voluntary work with young people where I speak to students about my career I’m often told that more doctors are needed to speak to students in schools and other community settings. Many companies engage with communities and schools by allowing their employees to speak to students during careers fairs and ‘employability’ days.

The NHS should take a similar approach. Doctors could be allowed time to go into schools and inform students about the realities of working as a doctor, rather than us having to do this in our own time as some doctors currently do.

I think we also need to create more clinical placements for students considering medicine as a career. We are all aware of the difficulties GPs face in terms of time pressures, but we should also be aware of the significant disadvantages that some students face too.

General practices could engage with schools and communities to create more work experience placements. These placements need to be productive, for example instead of students filing notes perhaps they could speak to a GP or a GP registrar about a typical working day? What about speaking to other members of the multidisciplinary team? The RCGP’s Severn Faculty has produced a guide to how practices can provide work experience opportunities.

Let's be positive
The current climate within the NHS is poor, and morale in the medical profession is low, but hopefully things will change. We need to be positive - who are we to actively discourage students from applying to medicine? We may be missing out on future professionals who could make a real difference to patients, find a new groundbreaking treatment, or conduct life changing research.

Medicine has many negatives but there are also many positives. We have to think about where the next generation of future doctors are coming from and implement strategies to ensure we do not miss a whole cohort of potential doctors.

It is deeply unfortunate that the current government fails to listen to those working in the NHS; who see the problems and are actively trying to make a change. Doctors, healthcare professionals and others in the NHS need to keep talking about the issues and provide suggestions and effective solutions to the problems.

  • Dr Baptiste is a ST1 GP trainee in Romford, Essex. During a year away from medicine Dr Baptiste set up DreamSmartTutors, an organisation that aims to educate and inform students about working life as a doctor and help them successfully apply to medical school.

References

  1. Steven K, Dowell J, Jackson C, Guthrie B. Fair access to medicine? Retrospective analysis of UK medical schools application data 2009-2012 using three measures of socioeconomic status. BMC Med Educ  13 Jan 2016;
  2. McManus IC, Dewberry C, Nicholson S, Dowell JS. The UKCAT-12 study: educational attainment, aptitude test performance, demographic and socio-economic contextual factors as predictors of first year outcome in a cross-sectional collaborative study of 12 UK medical schools. BMC Medicine  2013;11:244.
  3. Centre for Health Economics. The socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of United Kingdom junior doctors in training across specialties. Dec 2015.

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