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Bias a factor in BME medical graduates’ lower pass rates, says GMC

Unconscious bias is a potential factor behind the lagging pass rates of black and minority ethnic UK medical graduates in specialty exams, according to a GMC report.

The regulator’s annual report on the progression of doctors in training found that while white UK medical graduates have an average pass rate of 75.8%, this drops to just 63.2% among BME graduates who are also from the UK.

There has been a ‘small narrowing of the gap between the two groups’ of 0.6% since the previous year but this could be ‘due to natural variation’ and the difference between the two ‘remains statistically significant’, said the GMC.

The report also looked at age, gender and socioeconomic group as factors in graduates’ performance, finding that there is ‘a 10% point difference between the pass rates of the most and least deprived cohorts’ of UK graduates.

But the worst pass rates were found among international medical graduates. Pass rates for graduates from the European Economic Area (EEA) are 45.2% and for non-EEA graduates just 41.1% on average.

As part of this year’s report, the GMC commissioned University College London to look into what may influence pass rates.

The GMC report said: ‘UCL found that BME UK graduates, and doctors who qualified overseas, were believed to face risks of unconscious bias in assessments, recruitment and day-to-day working.

‘Other issues included separation from their support networks outside work, because of a lack of autonomy about job locations, difficulties in “fitting in” at work and, occasionally, overt prejudice.’

It added that ‘these risks restricted opportunities for learning, lowered morale and could, in severe cases, cause mental health problems’.

But GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said some of these factors, which also include individual characteristics, were ‘difficult to untangle and influence’ and that ‘unfortunately, there are no quick fixes’.

He said the GMC wants to ‘work with everyone involved to make the system as fair and supportive as possible’, adding that the regulator ‘is committed to doing everything we can to make sure that every doctor in training has the opportunity and support necessary to fulfil their potential’.