Female majority in medic studies

June 25, 2004

Women are outnumbering men in medical schools across the UK as male students continue to turn away from a career in medicine, a British Medical Association study has found.

A report on the demography of medical schools, published this week by the BMA, revealed that in 2003 more than three out of five entrants to UK medical schools were female.

The report estimates that, if the trend continues, women doctors will outnumber men in eight years.

Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, explained that there is no clear idea as to why the traditional gender bias in medical training has been so firmly reversed.

Dr Nathanson said: "We know some of the barriers to women applying have come down, such as a lack of science education for women. But there are also fewer applications from boys."

According to the report, in 2003 just over 6,000 men applied to study medicine, compared with almost 9,000 female applicants.

The report suggests that women may have been given a boost by their improved academic performance. Whereas several years ago girls lagged behind boys in science subjects, female students now perform as well as or better than male students in every secondary school science examination.

The report also says that negative press coverage of long hours and low pay may be putting boys off a career in medicine.

But the report points out that a female-dominated National Health Service could run into serious problems, as women doctors decide to work part time or take career breaks to raise children. In a study of female medical trainees in 2001, 92 per cent expressed an interest in part-time work.

But Dr Nathanson insisted that positive discrimination in favour of men - or any other under-represented groups - would not be a sensible option.

The report also found that social class and race have a major impact on people's chances of studying medicine at university.

Six in ten medical school applicants still come from the highest social classes. In recent years applicants with parents with professional or managerial jobs were twice as likely to be accepted as those from working-class backgrounds.

The report concludes that although medical courses attract a large proportion of Asian students, students from black African and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds are significantly less likely to study medicine.

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