Aberdeen experts input to new report on widening access to medical education

Medical schools and government agencies across the UK need to do more to attract bright young people from all backgrounds to become the doctors of the future.

This is the main message of a national report published this week to which Aberdeen experts in medical education made a major contribution.

Selecting for Excellence is the final report of the expert panel drawn from medical schools across the UK to review how students are selected for medical courses and what is being done to attract applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Half of UK secondary schools and colleges did not provide a single applicant to medicine in recent years. Research undertaken and commissioned by the project found that 20% of schools or colleges provide 80% of applicants to medicine, and that grammar or independent schools are still responsible for about half of all medicine applicants.

The final report of the Selecting for Excellence project conducted by the Medical Schools Council  is the culmination of an 18-month study of selection methods to medical degrees, with  particular focus on widening participation.

Professor Jennifer Cleland, John Simpson Chair of Medical Education at the University of Aberdeen,  led a multi-centre team commissioned by the Selecting for Excellence Group  to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to suggest that UK medical school all adopt the same approach in selecting students.. 

Prof Cleland said: “This review allowed us to step back and take a long, hard look at the effectiveness of the various methods used to select students for medicine.  Some of the methods already in use show great potential in terms of widening access, but many questions remain unanswered - particularly about how different methods could be combined and which are better for attracting a wide range of students.   

“We concluded that we don’t yet have enough evidence to propose a national framework for selection and widening access in UK medical schools at the present time, but we were able to identify research which needs to be done to fill the gaps in what we currently know.”

This followed previous work commissioned from Prof Cleland and her team by the General Medical Council and Selecting for Excellence Group published in 2012 and 2013 respectively.  The  new report highlights that this earlier work has already had an impact on the selection methods medical schools use, with a number of schools now placing less emphasis on scoring personal statements and moving from individual interviews to mini-multiple interview format.

The University of Aberdeen Medical School has been ranked top in Scotland and fifth in the UK in the  Complete University Guide for 2015. Commenting on the release of the Selecting for Excellence report, Professor Rona Patey, Head of Division of Medical and Dental Education, said  “University of Aberdeen procedures are an example of best practice as an early adopter of the recommended approach to selection methods set out in the report. Aberdeen is also in the top group of medical schools in terms of both attracting ‘widening access’ applications, and making offers to this group.”

The report makes a series of recommendations as to how medical schools, organisations such as Health Education England, and Government, can work together to address the fact that medicine has fallen behind other subjects in terms of widening participation and understanding the barriers which hold back many of the brightest school students from applying and gaining entry to a medical school.  

In particular, new research has highlighted the need for an expansion of outreach activity to ensure that  there is coverage across the whole of the UK. At present, bright and able school children who do not live near a medical school may miss vital opportunities to explore medicine as a career. The report also calls on the NHS to expand  work experience for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will benefit not just those wishing to pursue a career in medicine but will broaden horizons for all those wishing to join other healthcare professions.

The report makes it clear that contextualised admissions are a key tool that all medical schools should use to widen participation. University Vice Chancellors, the Department of Health (England), and those responsible for health and education in devolved administrations, should publicly endorse the principle of contextual admissions in order to encourage further analysis into this area and sharing of best practice.

These are a few of the many recommendations set out in the final report. Others revolve around crucial areas such as data collection, student information, and selection methods. As a means of encouraging and monitoring the use of the recommendations, ten-year targets have been set concerning the increased participation of students from socio-economic groups which currently are under-represented in medicine.

The final report and press release can be accessed here:


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