THE CONTROVERSY this week has been the acceptance by the medical schools that the admission of students for degree courses in medicine has not always been fair. Selection of medical students has always been a very emotive issue. After all, to be a doctor almost guarantees a comfortable lifestyle (at least in material terms) and a satisfied career. Nobody should assume, however, that being a doctor is a cushy life. There are long hours to undergo and very difficult decisions to take. Doctors earn their rewards.

Medicine is the subject in the highest demand among potential students and there is no doubt that there are many more people adequately academically qualified to study medicine than can be admitted. Hence, there is always a sense of injustice among those who are rejected. They will look for any kind of evidence to suggest that they have been maltreated.

There is no doubt that the greatest number of complaints featuring in my postbag are from potential students, their parents, teachers, solicitors or MPs who have been "denied" a place in medicine. It is not for UCAS to say why applications have been rejected because it is the individual medical schools who make the decisions. Nevertheless, when I receive a complaint, I always look at the application form and it is surprising on how many occasions there is what, in my view, is a deficiency in the application, particularly in the personal statement made by the applicant.

Frequently there is no statement effectively to say "I want to become a doctor". It often seems clear that the potential medical student wants to go into medical research and, for example, solve the cancer problem. But there are many ways of progressing into medical research other than studying medicine and medical schools want to train doctors, not necessarily medical researchers.

Others will say that "I want to become a doctor because I would like to work with people". Well, if you want to work with people, perhaps you might like to become a social worker, or a teacher, or a personnel officer and not necessarily a doctor.

Others will say "My father was terribly ill a few years ago and I was so impressed by the way in which the medical profession dealt with him that I would now like to become a doctor." Life is littered with professional failures who were perhaps admitted once to a psychiatric institution and therefore wanted to become psychiatrists or those who came from an unfortunate background who wished to become social workers.

UCAS is currently developing a policy that all university and college courses should present a so-called admissions criteria profile in which they should set out the precise criteria against which they wish to select students. One medical school has stated, quite clearly, that it is looking for applicants to demonstrate evidence of an insight into medicine and a commitment and motivation to study medicine as a career. Relatively few applicants measure up to those kinds of criteria in their applications.

Nobody wishes to deny that the medical schools have faced up to their problems with courage and dignity and are looking to ensure that there is no continuation of the apparent discrimination that in some circumstances is being exercised. On the other hand, there is much more to the selection of students than can be informed by data and statistics. Indeed the current research that gave rise to the controversy is only a limited analysis.

Further work remains to be done on the impact on decisions made by selectors of, for example, GCSE results, the applicant's personal statement, the referee's report, predicted grades, interview performance and so on.

The medical schools are now going through an uncomfortable time but, to their credit, they have grasped the nettle and, however much they may have been pilloried over the last few days, they also deserve considerable credit for facing full-square up to the issue.

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