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Medical school applications decrease as ‘negative publicity’ takes toll

The total number of UK students applying for places at medical school has fallen for the second year running, dropping by 13.5% on two years ago, latest figures have revealed.

GP academic leaders have said that the decline was ‘too large to be due to chance’, and that some school students are being put off applying because of the ‘negative publicity’ around cuts in NHS funding, increasing workloads and the expectation of seven-day working – as well as changes to GPs’ and consultants’ contracts.

It comes as there continues to be a shortfall in GP training places filled - despite an apparent recent upturn in applications - with half of places remaining vacant in some areas of the country.

Statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show:

  • There were 14,820 applicants by the end of the October deadline in 2015 – 3% fewer than in 2014, and 13.5% fewer than in 2013;
  • This followed a steady increase in the number of UK applicants, from 16,730 in 2011 to 17,140 in 2013;
  • However, since then there was a 11% drop to 15,220 in 2014.

UCAS said the latest decrease was the result of a big fall in students reapplying for medicine – down by 18%, while new applicants were up 2%.

Professor Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care at Imperial College London, said the decline in applications since 2014 could be down to ‘negative publicity’

He added that ‘the negative publicity we have seen about the NHS in the last few years – problems with funding, workload, seven-day working, consultant and GP contracts, etc – has started to discourage some people from applying’.

Dr Alex Harding, senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, said the drop ’reflects what gifted sixth formers are thinking about medicine as a career’.  

Dr Harding added: ’I don’t think we need to look too far behind – or in front of us to see the forces shaping their perceptions.’

However, Dr Harding added the figures may have a ‘silver lining’ if a fall in applicants reduced medical schools’ ’excessive reliance on increasingly extreme exam scores as a way of selecting future physicians’.

Co-chair of the BMA medical students committee Charlie Bell said: ’Students are being asked to take on ever-larger amounts of debt.

’A first-year medical student in England can now expect to accumulate debts in the region of £70,000 by the end of their studies.

’I expect that, these financial considerations, coupled with major changes to the NHS, uncertainly over the future of the health service and the treatment of frontline staff have combined to make medicine a less attractive option for some of our best and brightest schools leavers.’

Readers' comments (18)

  • Azeem Majeed

    Another factor in the decline in applications to medical school may be the large debts that medical students will have once they qualify - particularly in England, where university fees are £9,000 per year. This may reduce the number of applications from students from poorer socio-economic groups and others who are worried about the large debts they will have on qualification.

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  • I don'the think publicity is the cause or the answer to the problem.

    Many medical doctors come from families with links to the profession and the feedback the potential applicants are getting is far stronger than any spin the media can put on the problem.

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  • Which doctors would now recommend their children to follow them in their footsteps?

    I certainly would not and it seems that soon more and more students who many not have medical parents are be beginning to realise this too.

    They will soon know after the junior doctors problems are centre stage that they should not only be concerned in how to get into medicine but if they did what their future would be if they did.

    I have spoken to several anxious potential students who changed their career choices once they realised what would lie ahead of them.

    One girl who failed to get in the first time as she was 17 and who got into UCL for biomedical sciences in the hope of reapplying after this first degree, will not now reapply and is very glad she did the other degree now.

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  • Awfully written article. New applications are up.

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  • Prof Majeed,

    It is not negative publicity. It is a fact of the matter.

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  • Agree it is not clear, but it is still significant that students who have already applied once will have had more time to think about their choices and consider the issues before reapplying and may have thought twice after reflection.

    The new applicants will be that bit younger and may have less of an idea what being a doctor is all about and may have spent most of their time and efforts in getting accepted. The consequences of their choice may not have been fully understood by them in their push to getting the grades and work experience to be offered a place.

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  • Those politicians have underestimated us. They are so stupid they think they can mess with professionals 10 times smarter and more resilient than them.
    Continue spreading the word that medicine is a sh!t profession, work to rule, strike, emigrate, change careers, become a house wife/husband, locum, go part-time....hit them where it hurts and they will yield. They will learn how to respect us again. This is war.

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  • Obviously due to HEE #nothinggeneral GP recruitment campaign. I see not other possible causative factor. This is 100% true, regardless of any temporal inconsistentcies in my robust analysis.

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  • They don't give toss. As long as applicants outnumber the places there is no issue.

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  • The decline in applications is not the problem. The problem is the selection processes by the medical schools. This is the elephant in the room - a sufficiently large elephant that prevents me from expanding.

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  • Alarmist headlines.Medical school places are in HUGE demand.A 13.5% drop wouldn't even cause a dent in the number of applicants to position ratio.

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  • There is the potential upside of more intelligent students entering different fields which will, in time, possibly result in more intelligent politicians....?
    I would be relieved if my great grandchildren could behold a swing of the pendulum back to a well funded all encompassing NHS, as long as my children and grandchildren survive the current failing service we are all being forced to endure.
    Government being held to account for the evidenced harm to staff and patients of the current NHS reforms? Bring it on.

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  • @"|Anonymous | Other GP|09 Nov 2015 10:47am

    Awfully written article. New applications are up."

    -Please justify this statement.

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  • Oh dear !! How are they going to fill the posts. Take non eu doctors to do the hospital posts which no one is interested in doing.
    Perfect example of slavery in a developed world who boasts about their human rights records.

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  • |Anonymous | Other GP|09 Nov 2015 10:47am

    I think you're getting mixed up with GP training applications which I believe have incredibly gone up. This article is about medical school applications.

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  • Vinci Ho

    I would like to look at this in another angle. In every generation , the youngsters are inspired by what is perceived as 'successful' before choosing a career path. The culture created by this government and perhaps many governments in the world , is about better and better economy. Economists believe virtually everything can be solved by financial incentives . The newly found 'wealthy' countries like BRICS only value rise in GDP and ignore all social norms valued by western countires. I think this government is clearly infected by this culture.
    So , yes, if I am a bright A level students , I would be tempted to choose a degree which can lead me to a lot of money and wealth. Helping people , saving lives etc, are likely all inferior to the stock market , banking and enterprises in this current world

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  • @Vinci HO

    You hit the nail on the head; growing up in the 90s , most of the top students in my year wanted to be doctors or dentists. Medical professionals were seen as successful people. There was kudos attached to the work as well as the satisfaction gained from being able to help people with all sorts of ailments with your skills and knowledge. In those days society respected doctors and pay was excellent;

    Nowadays especially in the socialist gulag known as Britain, professionals are denigrated and the pay and working conditions for doctors are contemptible. Many doctors struggle to have the trappings of what is generally regarded as middle class life....a detached house in the leafy burbs, kids in private schools, nice car, nice holidays during the year as well as the ability to be able to save and build wealth;

    Doctors are routinely trashed in the media as well with their usual lies and poison

    in essence, what person in their right mind would want to be a doctor in the UK?? they are treated like vermin. its despicable what has developed over there; Britain has become a really really nasty place

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