The ethnicity attainment gap among medical and biomedical science students: a qualitative study



Claridge H, Stone K & Ussher M (2018) The ethnicity attainment gap among medical and biomedical science students: a qualitative study. BMC Medical Education, 18 (1), Art. No.: 325.

Background Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) medical students and professionals frequently underachieve when compared with their White counterparts not only in the United Kingdom, but across the globe. There is no consensus for the definitive causes of this attainment gap, but suggestions contributing towards it include: increased feelings of isolation as a member of a minority culture or religion; a poorer higher education (HE) experience compared with White counterparts; and stereotype threat, whereby students underperform in exams from the stresses of fearing confirming to a negative-stereotype. Methods The aim of this study was to gather qualitative data on HE experiences of medical and biomedical science students to explore factors contributing to the attainment gap. Audio-recorded, semi-structured interviews and a novel approach for this research area of ethnically-homogenous student-led focus groups, were held with students and staff at a healthcare-based university in London, where lower attainment, slower rates of degree completion and lower levels of satisfaction with HE experience were identified in BAME students compared with White students. Thematic analysis was used to manage, summarize and analyse the data. Results Forty-one students and eight staff members were interviewed or took part in focus groups. The student data were best explained by two main themes: social factors and stereotyping, whilst staff data were also best explained by two main themes: social factors and student and staff behaviour. Social factors suggested ethnically-defined social networks and the informal transfer of knowledge impacted academic performance, isolating minority groups from useful academic information. BAME students may also be at a further disadvantage, being unable to attend social and academic functions for cultural or family reasons. Black students also mentioned changing their behaviour to combat negative stereotypes in a variety of contexts. Conclusions This study suggests that forms of discrimination, whether conscious or unconscious, may be negatively impacting the abilities of BAME students both in examinations and in coursework choice. It highlights the importance of social networks for the transfer of academic knowledge and the impact ethnicity may have on their formation, with issues around segregation and the sharing of information outside defined groups.

Attainment gap; Black, Asian and minority ethnic; Ethnicity; Medical student Biomedical sciences student; University; Undergraduate; Qualitative research

BMC Medical Education: Volume 18, Issue 1

FundersUniversity of London
Publication date29/12/2018
Publication date online29/12/2018
Date accepted by journal10/12/2018

People (1)


Professor Michael Ussher
Professor Michael Ussher

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Institute for Social Marketing