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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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