Move to tackle bias against black doctors

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The Independent Online
MEDICAL SCHOOLS are to cut the number of applications they accept from students each year to help to combat charges of racism. Students will be able to apply to a maximum of four medical schools, instead of five, to give admissions staff extra time to assess each application on its merits and ensure ethnic minority applicants are not being unfairly rejected.

The move, agreed by the Council of Heads of Medical Schools and university admissions officials, follows growing concern over the poor success rate of black applicants.

Figures for 1998 published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show that 55 per cent of white applicants to medical school were successful compared with 15.5 per cent of black applicants. Their success rate for non-medical courses was 64 per cent, compared with 77 per cent for whites. Asians have a 40 per cent success rate for getting on to a medical courses and 74 per cent on to other university courses.

Despite their poor success rate, ethnic minority students make up 24 per cent of all trainee doctors. That is more than four times their proportion in the population, reflecting the popularity of medicine as a career among young Asians, who make up 26 per cent of applicants to medical school.

Michael Powell, executive officer of the council, said: "Medical schools get 60,000 applications from 12,000 applicants for 5,000 places. With this many applications, it is very difficult to give every candidate the consideration they deserve. So we decided to reduce the number of applications candidates can make. The aim is to try to root out any racial bias, if there is any, by giving more attention to each application.

"We are pretty certain that any bias that may be operating does not operate at the interview stage. If there is any, it may be in the initial sifting of applications. If there is any bias creeping in at that stage, and we can't be sure there is, reducing the total of applications should result in a fairer process."

Mr Powell earlier suggested that a possible explanation for black applicants' poorer performance was that they "mature late" and may lack characteristics of motivation, leadership and ability to work with others. Ethnic minority candidates also tended to get poorer GCSE grades.

His comments were criticised by Dr Sam Everington, a London GP, who first highlighted the problem of racism in medical schools. Dr Everington said the comments were "shocking" but "unsurprising".

Dr Surendra Kumar, chairman of the Overseas Doctors Association, called Mr Powell's comments "outrageous".

Later, Mr Powell admitted there was no evidence for his remarks and said he regretted making them.

Georgina English, of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "We are actively involved with medical schools in providing advice, but if we don't see improvements in the next Ucas data then we may have to consider stronger action."