Why did you set up In2MedSchool?
In my last year of medical school, I saw a disparity between the healthcare workforce and the communities it serves. The NHS is built on the belief that healthcare should be available to all at the point of delivery. But access to healthcare as a profession is far from equal. Only 4% of doctors in the UK are from working class backgrounds, even though more than 40% of the population consider themselves working class. When I investigated further, I found that 80% of applicants into medicine came from only 20% of schools in the UK – with 50% of schools having no applicants at all.
The pandemic further highlighted the importance of our healthcare service and the unprecedented strain on the NHS and our communities. I founded In2MedSchool last summer to try and improve this imbalance across the healthcare profession and support the next generation of medics from disadvantaged backgrounds across the UK.
How does the programme help aspiring medics?
In2MedSchool provides free one-to-one mentorship for underprivileged 16- to 18-year olds hoping to study medicine, helping them navigate through the complex application process.
Our selection criteria include students that are young carers, students with English as a second language, students on free school meals, with special needs or disabilities and individuals from Black or Asian backgrounds. These students are individually picked by our regional heads from their local medical school and matched to a medical student or doctor who becomes their personal mentor for two years. Our mentors support the students with work experience and volunteering opportunities, exam revision and interview practice.
We also run fortnightly free webinars to support students in other areas, including mental health and financing university.
What obstacles do students from underprivileged backgrounds face when applying to medical school?
The application process for medical school is fraught with hurdles. From the expectations to find work experience and volunteering opportunities, to the additional medical school exams (BMAT and UCAT), there are many points at which students from widening participation backgrounds are disadvantaged compared to students with more favourable socioeconomic backgrounds.
The hurdles that need to be overcome are why medicine remains one of the most inaccessible professions to join.
The criteria to become one of our mentees includes, but is not limited to, students who are socially disadvantaged by living in a neighbourhood with low progression to higher education; are forced migrants or have been in care. Our mentees also include students who may require additional educational support, including those with a disability or who speak English as an additional language. Nepotism can play a big role in supporting a child’s application to medical school, so we support students who may not have the right contacts, including students who are young carers and those who are either estranged from both parents or guardians or don’t have a parent in a skilled profession.
The hurdles that need to be overcome are why medicine remains one of the most inaccessible professions to join. The pandemic has made accessing opportunities and support even worse for potential students who come from a widening participation background.
Tell us about your own background. How did you find applying to medical school and your subsequent studies?
I moved to the UK with my family when I was six years old. We lived in a council flat and I struggled to learn English, needing additional educational support through primary school to catch up with my peers.
At secondary school I had big dreams about studying medicine, but I didn’t know who to turn to for advice and I really wished I’d had someone to help me through the application process.
I feel so fortunate to have studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London – where I also completed my PhD, funded by the British Heart Foundation. I’m now a junior doctor working at Northwick Park Hospital in London. My goal is to create a supportive network for aspiring medics from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Photo credit: iStock
More than 2,500 junior doctors and undergraduate medics joined In2MedSchool as mentors since you set up the programme. How can others help?
With the great success of In2MedSchool over the last 12 months, we’ve expanded our initiative and recently created the Ambassadors Programme, which aims to provide free work experience opportunities for students from widening participation backgrounds to help with their applications. We’re so grateful for the generosity of the junior doctors who have volunteered their time to support us.
Any medical student interested in joining as a mentor, or any doctor interested in becoming an ambassador, can sign up on our website and a member of our team will be in touch with supporting material and information about the school student we’ve matched them up with.
How have you seen the programme help aspiring medics so far? Has anything surprised you?
We’ve recently had our first class of graduates from our mentorship programme. Many of them have gone on to become mentors at their medical schools, guiding the next cohort of aspiring medics within their communities. We’ve also had fantastic feedback from our fortnightly events. In2MedSchool has an incredibly hard-working events team of directors and officers who create all kinds of events for students during their last two years of school – supporting them while they take their first steps into the next big chapter in their lives.
What does the future hold for In2Med School?
We're expanding fast. Our aim by 2025 is to increase the number of successful medical school applicants from widening participation backgrounds by 5,000 students. Beyond our mentorship programme and regular events, we hope to expand our grants and partnership sector and create a sustainable, supportive ambassadors programme.
Our overarching goal is to level the playing field for aspiring medics, creating a healthcare workforce that is truly representative of the communities it serves.
Brian Wang is a specialised foundation doctor in London. He studied medicine at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College. At Imperial, Brian also completed a three-year British Heart Foundation-funded PhD at the National Heart and Lung Institute. His PhD project involved using a human stem cell model to investigate the role of fibrosis in cardiac electrophysiology in health and disease.
Brian has interests in medical education, research and widening participation at university. Brian wishes to pursue an academic career in interventional cardiology. In his spare time, Brian helps the In2MedSchool core committee co-ordinate its activities and also enjoys playing rugby and competing in CrossFit competitions.
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