Doctors have been using Twitter to highlight that people from all types of backgrounds can go on to have successful careers in medicine, helping to breakdown its reputation as an elitist profession that is only open to those from affluent and private school backgrounds.

St George's students

calendar-icon 13 February 2018

The #mypathtomedicine hashtag was trending in January and among those using the hashtag was St George’s alumna Heather Ryan.

GP, Heather Ryan, was inspired to take up a profession in healthcare when at a young age she had scoliosis that required two major spinal operations.

She said: “I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child, which gave me early exposure to what healthcare professionals did.

“My second operation was a great success and really transformed my life chances, and from an early age I had a keen understanding of how doctors could change patients’ lives.”

Heather’s parents both grew up in council housing. They encouraged their daughter to study, recognising she was bright from a young age. She attended a state comprehensive school where she was physically and verbally abused for working hard and getting good grades.

She said: “I found it a very difficult and lonely experience, and most of the teachers were unsupportive.

“I then went to a state sixth form college which had a much better ethos. The sixth form college organised support for applicants who were sitting the BMAT test, and they encouraged us to attend university open days, and even organised a trip to Oxford University.”

Heather fell in love with Oxford and got an offer, but experienced a lot of prejudice.

The system at the time meant students had to reapply in order to stay at the University for clinical school. Heather passed 13 of the 14 exams and didn’t get accepted back. Instead, she transferred to St George’s, University of London.

She said: “That’s when things really started looking up. I like to say that applying to St George’s is the best decision I never made!

“Even though I ended up there by accident, I loved it as soon as I arrived.”

She added: “I made lots of friends and adored living in London. St George’s had a very clear commitment to Widening Participation, which made me feel very welcome.

“The student body felt much more diverse. I have St George’s to thank for my success.”

On what can be done to help break down barriers to the medical profession, Heather said: “The most important thing that teachers can do is not limit the ambition of their students.

“It’s vital that teachers encourage their pupils to aim for the stars, rather than propagating myths about how 'medicine isn’t for people like us'.

She added: “Encouraging students to attend open days, and helping pupils to organise relevant work experience or voluntary placements, are also important.”

Heather is aware that medical schools are already doing work to encourage applications from people of all background.

She explained: “It’s important that medical schools think carefully about their admission criteria, and don’t penalise applicants because of their background.”

She added: “I think that the most important thing that doctors can do is raise awareness of the fact that anyone, from any background, can become a doctor. The key is to be open and approachable.”

St George’s commitment to widening participation

St George’s has a long-standing commitment to increase social mobility and break down the pattern that has seen top jobs dominated by those from privileged backgrounds.

Each year the university works with more than 5,000 students from more than 200 schools and colleges, informing them about careers in healthcare and medicine to help raise their aspirations and to inspire them to find out more.

As part of the university’s commitment to fair access, St George’s has revised its medical admissions processes to level the playing field between people from different backgrounds.

The Adjusted Criteria admissions policy provides applicants from poor performing schools with a two grade reduction to the standard A-Level offer. The scheme is open to candidates from non-selective state schools in England with an average A-Level grade of D+ or below, or in the bottom 20% nationally for progression into Higher Education.

Full details of the Adjusted Criteria Scheme, eligible schools list and all entry requirements for our courses can be found here

The university also uses Multi-Mini Interviews to assess applicants. This process tests those innate skills that make a good doctor such as empathy, compared to traditional panel interviews which favour students from independent schools who tend to be more confident and articulate in interview situations.

Find out more about our widening participation activities.