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Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2018 Jan 24. doi: 10.1007/s10459-018-9809-2. [Epub ahead of print]

"Aspirations of people who come from state education are different": how language reflects social exclusion in medical education.

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Centre for Healthcare Education Research and Innovation (CHERI), Institute of Education for Medical and Dental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Polwarth Building, Foresterhill, Aberdeen, AB25 2ZD, UK.
School of Language, Literature, Music and Visual Culture, University of Aberdeen, Taylor Building, Kings College, Aberdeen, AB24 3UB, UK.


Despite repeated calls for change, the problem of widening access (WA) to medicine persists globally. One factor which may be operating to maintain social exclusion is the language used in representing WA applicants and students by the gatekeepers and representatives of medical schools, Admissions Deans. We therefore examined the institutional discourse of UK Medical Admissions Deans in order to determine how values regarding WA are communicated and presented in this context. We conducted a linguistic analysis of qualitative interviews with Admissions Deans and/or Staff from 24 of 32 UK medical schools. Corpus Linguistics data analysis determined broad patterns of frequency and word lists. This informed a critical discourse analysis of the data using an "othering" lens to explore and understand the judgements made of WA students by Admissions Deans, and the practices to which these judgments give rise. Representations of WA students highlighted existing divides and preconceptions in relation to WA programmes and students. Through using discourse that can be considered othering and divisive, issues of social divide and lack of integration in medicine were highlighted. Language served to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes and a significant 'us' and 'them' rhetoric exists in medical education. Even with drivers to achieve diversity and equality in medical education, existing social structures and preconceptions still influence the representations of applicants and students from outside the 'traditional' medical education model in the UK. Acknowledging this is a crucial step for medical schools wishing to address barriers to the perceived challenges to diversity.


Corpus linguistics; Discourse analysis; Increasing diversity; Othering; Widening access

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