UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


UCL leads national study into future doctors’ motivations

23 May 2019

The UK’s doctors of the future are being invited to explain their motivations for wanting to work in the health service, as part of a UCL-led study aimed at providing a happier, more diverse and more robust NHS.


The UK Medical Applicant Cohort Study (UKMACS), launched this month (May, 2019), is a long-term longitudinal study, which aims to help applicants increase their chances of getting a place at the best medical school for them, thereby ensuring medical schools choose the best people to be doctors

UKMACS will produce evidence that will help applicants navigate the complex and highly competitive process of applying to medical school – something that is more difficult for students from deprived backgrounds.  It will also allow researchers to find ways of improving how medical students and doctors are trained - helping ensure the NHS benefits from having the best doctors.

From this month thousands of students applying to enter one of the UK’s 40 medical schools in 2020, will be asked to take part in the research, which is funded by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Principle researcher Dr Katherine Woolf (UCL Medical School) said: “We are aiming to unearth what motivates and interests those at the beginning of their journey of choosing a medical career as well as discovering potential challenges and obstacles that to-date, we are not aware of. 

“For instance, we know students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less successful at getting into the medical school of their choice, even given  their academic success, so we hope to find out why.

“Ensuring the NHS has the doctors it needs for the future, means we need to prioritise the application process for medics today and ensure all applicants have a fair chance.”

Of the 20,000 annual applications to medical schools, only around half will be successful, however medical courses vary in both content and entry criteria – meaning some unsuccessful students may have fared better had they applied elsewhere.

The study’s findings will be used to help future students apply to the right medical school for them and ultimately to ensure the NHS benefits from having the best doctors.

Hopeful medical students who register for the University Clinical Aptitude Test (UCAT) will receive an invitation letter carrying the message ‘The NHS Needs YOU!’, and participants will complete two questionnaires, one before the October 2019 university application deadline, and one shortly afterwards.

The questionnaire is designed to find out why a student will choose a particular medical school, why they want to become doctors, along with questions about general approach and motivations in life. It also asks about personal background details, so researchers can see how someone’s background might affect their choices of medical school and their chances of getting a place to study medicine.

In March 2018, the Government announced five new medicals schools would be launched.Anglia Ruskin University took its first students in September 2018; The University of Lincoln and The University of Sunderland will take their first students in 2019; and Edge Hill University and the Kent and Medway Medical School at Canterbury Christ Church University will take their first students in September 2020.

Dr Woolf added: “The NHS is desperately short of doctors. Five new medical schools and 1,500 more medical student places have just been created, and by 2020 there will be 5,000 more doctors in General Practice. 

“The results of the study will help ensure that moving forward those interested in becoming doctors, from a diversity of backgrounds, are supported during their application, and that patients benefit from having the best medics.”

The longitudinal study will continue to interact with participants over the next five years, helping assess how well their studies and career is progressing, along with any professional challenges, motivational changes and/or approach to life.  



Credit: Unsplash

Media contact

Henry Killworth

T: +44 (0) 207 679 5296

E: h.killworth [at] ucl.ac.uk