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Why widening access to the medical profession should matter to us all

Dr Jane Valentine

Director, Extended Medical Degree Programme
King's College London

This blog and video are part of a project by Universities UK to demonstrate the impact of higher education on individuals, the economy and society.

The EMDP featured in the final report of the Social Mobility Advisory Group, published earlier this week, as an example of the innovative work that universities are doing to improve educational outcomes for underrepresented students.

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​'Equality and diversity' is one of the ten key standards highlighted by the medical profession's governing body, the General Medical Council. While headway is being made in widening access to medical education, the going is slow and doctors from comprehensive school backgrounds and lower socio-economic groups continue to be underrepresented within the profession. Unless more is done – and done more quickly – it will be a long time before our future doctors mirror the diverse UK population they serve.  

For many years King's College London has worked to do something about this through its Extended Medical Degree Programme (EMDP),  the UK's flagship programme for widening participation in medicine. Established in 2001, the EMDP splits the first year of the five-year medical degree into two to create a six-year degree with additional academic and pastoral support across the early years. It now enrols 50 students per year, on top of the places available on the standard five-year programme. It is solely open to students from non-selective state schools across Greater London (and more recently nationally through the Realising Opportunities scheme). It uses a highly contextualised admissions process to individually assess each applicant according to their educational and socio-economic background.

Social mobility and student support

Along with my fellow co-director of the programme, Dr Steve Thompson, I am keen to understand more fully and help students, both current and prospective, overcome barriers to the medical profession. First and foremost, we listen to our students, value their insights and act on their concerns. We are working on several research areas to investigate the impact of the EMDP and the professional outcomes of its graduates. We took part in the Social Mobility All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry on Access into Medicine where we championed the EMDP and the need for more widespread and co-ordinated action, from school and community outreach, to medical school entry and beyond.

We understand the impact our students can have on the aspirations of school pupils and we empower student ambassadors to engage with school pupils through our dedicated Outreach for Medicine programme, established alongside the EMDP 15 years ago, as well as through university widening participation initiatives such as K+.

Equal opportunity to succeed

As I see it, widening participation means fair access to higher education: places awarded on the basis of ability and potential, not on your postcode, socio-economic status or the 'who you know' network. It means being given equal opportunity to do well, to be supported to succeed despite, rather than be held back because of, an underprivileged background. It's about transforming lives – for those who climb the social mobility ladder, but perhaps even more importantly for the communities and future generations they serve and become role models to.

The 270-plus practicing doctors who have graduated through the EMDP so far, many within the top ranks of the university's wider medical graduates, show what can be achieved when such barriers to success are overcome. I look forward with optimism to helping each new cohort follow their example, hoping that they will become the ever more diverse, inclusive and progressive workforce the NHS and its patients need.

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