Applying to Medicine as a Disadvantaged Student

Author: Jessica Gjeloshi
Medical Student, King’s College London
Ambassador @BecomingaDr 

What it means to be a disadvantaged student…..
University applicants from disadvantaged or ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds often belong to low socio-economic households or come from BAME backgrounds (or both). Students with disabilities, students who are the first in their family to attend university and mature students (those who were 21 or older on admission to university) are also considered to be from non-traditional, disadvantaged backgrounds. They are ‘disadvantaged’ because various barriers exist which hinder their access to higher education. Students from low socio-economic backgrounds often live in disadvantaged areas, attend low-achieving schools and have little support navigating the university application process.  Does this sound like you? Then keep reading.

Do disadvantaged students get into medicine?
The answer is yes!

The medical profession has always been renowned for its obtrusive social class gap. A quarter of medical school entrants have been educated in private schools (White, 2013), and only 4% of doctors in the UK come from working class backgrounds (White, 2016). But don’t let this put you off from applying to medicine!

As a ‘disadvantaged student’ who has just completed their 3rd year of medicine at King’s College London (my first-choice university!), I am here to tell you not only is it possible to get into medicine, but medical schools want more students like us!

Over recent years, many initiatives have been devised to increase both economic and racial diversity in medical schools. I’ll discuss exactly what help is out there for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who want to study medicine.

Outreach programmes:
Widening Participation (WP) is designed to enable disadvantaged high achievers’ access to a career in medicine. Every UK medical school has their own ‘outreach programme’ (a form of WP) so start looking into them and applying!

Before I knew I wanted to study at King’s, I took part in one of the university’s WP programmes called K+. K+ runs over the course of two years and is designed for Year 12 students from non-selective state schools across Greater London.  K+ gave me the opportunity to explore what a future career in medicine would entail, receive guidance from a dedicated e-mentor on applying to medical school and get tips on performing well on the UCAT. I even had a mock interview prior to my real MMI at King’s. This support was instrumental in helping me succeed in getting into medicine. After enrolling at King’s, I even received a K+ Start Up Scholarship of £1,000! If you are starting Year 12 in September and live in London/Greater London, then I would highly recommend you apply!

Social mobility programmes:
Charities such as the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) have been established to improve the educational opportunities of children from low socio-economic backgrounds across the UK. The SMF runs the ‘Aspiring Professionals Programme’ for students in Year 12 across the UK. SMF’s medical career sector provides what they describe as ‘four pillars’ of support to students, these include: mentoring by a medical professional, skills sessions and career workshops, help with the university application process and internships. Birmingham Children’s Hospital and UCL Hospital are partnered with SMF which enables students to do work experience with them. Getting work experience in a medical setting can be very difficult, especially if you don’t have the right connections, so this alone is a major plus!

Foundation courses and EMDP:
There are several medical schools in the UK which offer foundation courses or have an extended medical degree programme (EMDP). Foundation courses are great for students who didn’t manage to achieve the required grades to be accepted into medicine or for those who didn’t take a Science subject at A level. A foundation year will prepare students for a medical degree by developing their science, maths and interpersonal skills.

The University of Bristol, for example, has a year-long ‘Gateway to Medicine’ WP programme. Students must be from specific schools/colleges to be eligible for the course. Once the year has been successfully completed, student’s receive automatic entrance into Bristol’s 5-year medical degree programme. The University of Manchester also has a 6-year medical degree programme which includes a foundation year for students without a science background. King’s College offers a 6-year extended degree for both students from non-selective state schools located in deprived areas of London and students who have been part of one of King’s WP programmes.

The first two years of a normal medical degree programme are instead spread over three years. This provides a gradual introduction to medicine and allows students to receive additional academic and pastoral support.

Bursaries & Scholarships:
Every university offers living and hardship bursaries to support students from low-income backgrounds or those who have gotten into financial difficulties whilst completing their studies. For example, the Hull York Medical School offer medical students with household incomes of £25,000 or less a £2,400 bursary per year. You can also apply for scholarships. I was awarded the Desmond Tutu Scholarship for an essay I wrote on how my education at King’s would enable me to serve society once I have graduated. It is important to take time to research any additional funding that may be available because this could make all the difference to your experience at medical school.

What next?
Now that you have all this information it’s time to start applying! Don’t let your background discourage you from pursuing a career in medicine. The medical profession needs more diversity. Without it, the UK cannot meet the needs of its unique patient population, who also come from a variety of social, economic and ethnic backgrounds just like us!

White, C., 2013. Private school pupils still disproportionately represented in medical colleges. BMJ, [online] p.f5964. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 June 2020].
White, C., 2016. Just 4% of UK doctors come from working class backgrounds.
BMJ, [online] p.i6330.
Available at: <> [Accessed 24 June 2020].


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Elliot is a St George’s graduate currently working as an F1 Doctor in East London. As the first in his family to apply to university, Elliot is well aware of the barriers that can be faced in trying to get to medical school. He is passionate about widening access to medicine for underrepresented groups.
 He was the representative for St George’s on the BMA Medical Students Committee, and has done lots of work with local schools and colleges to raise awareness of medicine as a career, as well as working on admissions policies with the widening participation team St George’s. Elliot is part of the @BecomingaDr outreach team and National Health Careers Conference Team.