Characteristics of first-year students in Canadian medical schools. Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • BACKGROUND: The demographic and socioeconomic profile of medical school classes has implications for where people choose to practise and whether they choose to treat certain disadvantaged groups. We aimed to describe the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of first-year Canadian medical students and compare them with those of the Canadian population to determine whether there are groups that are over- or underrepresented. Furthermore, we wished to test the hypothesis that medical students often come from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. METHODS: As part of a larger Internet survey of all students at Canadian medical schools outside Quebec, conducted in January and February 2001, first-year students were asked to give their age, sex, self-described ethnic background using Statistics Canada census descriptions and educational background. Postal code at the time of high school graduation served as a proxy for socioeconomic status. Respondents were also asked for estimates of parental income and education. Responses were compared when possible with Canadian age-group-matched data from the 1996 census. RESULTS: Responses were obtained from 981 (80.2%) of 1223 first-year medical students. There were similar numbers of male and female students (51.1% female), with 65% aged 20 to 24 years. Although there were more people from visible minorities in medical school than in the Canadian population (32.4% v. 20.0%) (p < 0.001), certain minority groups (black and Aboriginal) were underrepresented, and others (Chinese, South Asian) were overrepresented. Medical students were less likely than the Canadian population to come from rural areas (10.8% v. 22.4%) (p< 0.001) and were more likely to have higher socioeconomic status, as measured by parents' education (39.0% of fathers and 19.4% of mothers had a master's or doctoral degree, as compared with 6.6% and 3.0% respectively of the Canadian population aged 45 to 64), parents' occupation (69.3% of fathers and 48.7% of mothers were professionals or high-level managers, as compared with 12.0% of Canadians) and household income (15.4% of parents had annual household incomes less than $40,000, as compared with 39.7% of Canadian households; 17.0% of parents had household incomes greater than $160,000, as compared with 2.7% of Canadian households with an income greater than $150,000). Almost half (43.5%) of the medical students came from neighbourhoods with median family incomes in the top quintile (p < 0.001). A total of 57.7% of the respondents had completed 4 years or less of postsecondary studies before medical school, and 29.3% had completed 6 or more years. The parents of the medical students tended to have occupations with higher social standing than did working adult Canadians; a total of 15.6% of the respondents had a physician parent. INTERPRETATION: Canadian medical students differ significantly from the general population, particularly with regard to ethnic background and socioeconomic status.

authors

publication date

  • April 16, 2002

published in