Dr John Glen reflects on the success of a widening participation scheme in north Wales that supports local state school children to apply to medical school. This blog is taken from the RCP report, Positives from the pandemic, which was published after a virtual visit to Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in June 2022.
Between 2009 and 2011, there wasn’t one single applicant to medical school from half of the schools in the UK. A fifth of medical school undergraduates and a third of Oxbridge undergraduates are privately educated, while only 6% of children in the UK as a whole are privately educated. This represents a waste of talent; it means that the medical workforce demographic doesn’t represent the population it serves. It leads to underserved geographical areas.
I don’t believe that widening access to medicine has to be about turning troubled drug-addicted teens into doctors. I think it’s about the hundreds of state school children in north Wales with A grades who simply don’t see medicine as a viable option. They don’t understand the system, they don’t know how to play the game during the medical school interviews because they don’t have the parents or the support network to teach them. They don’t have the sense of confidence and self-belief that some children get from private school.
Here in north Wales, the local SEREN network identifies state school children with excellent GCSE grades and invites them to a welcome event with universities showcasing engineering, law and medicine – which is where I come in. To get into medical school, applicants need to ace the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) and the interview. Around 40 sixth formers will sign up at the beginning of Year 12, and the numbers do drop off: we make them go through hurdles. It’s a tough system. It has to take precedence over everything else. We set them assignments they have to complete to be accepted for work experience.
It’s interesting that the stricter we are, the more they take it seriously. They are split into groups, with weekly sessions where they might have to give a talk about a difficult subject or take part in a group activity around ethics. They do practice UCAT questions and online quizzes. The survivors get to spend a week in the hospital at the end of Year 12. The following year, there’s a lot of interview practice for those who decide to go ahead with an application to medicine.
In recent times, we’ve moved a lot of our content onto Teams and SharePoint, which has been great and has allowed us to expand the programme. There’s a very successful dentistry stream now using the same format. The Welsh government has funded an administrator and it’s part of the job plan for our academic foundation 2 trainees. It takes up a lot of volunteer time. We need people to get involved, offer clinic time and act as interviewers. But it’s worth it. In the last cohort before COVID-19, every sixth-form student who completed the full 2-year programme got an offer for at least one medical school.
Dr John Glen
Honorary senior lecturer
University of Bangor