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Working in medicine is a privilege that shouldn’t just be for the privileged

In 2020 the RCP published A 2020 vision: An independent report into diversity and inclusion at the Royal College of Physicians. We said that we believe that the RCP will thrive by actively promoting inclusivity, with people of all backgrounds coming together and achieving success.

As a result, we have taken various actions to increase the diversity of members and fellows who are involved in our work as representatives and volunteers. That includes publishing data about the diversity of RCP leadership.

Part of that data is about the proportion who attended a fee paying school, which we use as an indicator of the socioeconomic background of our leaders. While it isn’t perfect, it is clear that people from working class backgrounds are underrepresented. The proportion of College officers and senior role holders (54%) and Council members (36%) who attended a fee paying school is much higher than the national average of around 7%.

In 2019 the Sutton Trust found that “61% of top doctors were educated at independent schools”. While many senior jobs are filled by people who went to a fee paying school – the same report found that 65% of senior judges, 59% of civil service permanent secretaries, 57% of the House of Lords, 49% of the armed forces and 44% of newspaper columnists did – this is something that the RCP wants to see shift in medicine.

A more diverse health and care workforce will be better placed to understand the diverse experiences of patients and develop person-centred services. That is why we said that an expansion of medical school places should be an opportunity to increase the number of young people from a working class background who study medicine. The RCP has also become a member of the National Medical Schools Widening Participation Forum.

This week we have published a This Doctor Can article by RCP fellow Professor Peter Chiodini about his experience of studying medicine and the work he does with the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF). The RCP encourages all its members - and all physicians - to consider becoming an SMF mentor as part of its Aspiring Professionals Programme.

SMF mentors support a young person by increasing their understanding of their desired career and professional life. They also help them explore their professional interests further, support them in their university application, general skills development, as well as supporting them with other new experiences they are facing, such as their first internship or first job.

There is also In2MedSchool, founded by RCP member Dr Brian Wang, which also provides mentor opportunities. In this video in our ‘Let’s talk about…’ series, Brian and Professor Áine Burns, RCP senior censor and vice president for education and training, explore mentorship, widening participation within the healthcare setting and the In2MedSchool initiative.