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Growth in the proportion of female medical students begins to slow

The number of women joining UK medical schools continues to outnumber men – our figures show that in 2012, 55% of medical students were female. However, the growth in the number of female medical students is slowing, from a peak of 61% in 2003.

The overall increase in women joining the profession means that in just a few years, there will be more female than male doctors on the medical register.

The trend has been highlighted in our new report, The state of medical education and practice in the UK: 2013. The report charts changes to UK medical education and practice – showing who the doctors of tomorrow are and the nature of complaints over recent years.

Where do medical graduates train after they have qualified?

Some medical schools retain more medical graduates in the local postgraduate deanery than others. Our report shows that, during 2009–12:

  • Queen’s University Belfast, University of Glasgow and University of Birmingham had the highest retention rates
  • University of Dundee, University of Oxford and Bristol University had the lowest retention rates.

Evidence also shows that the NHS relies increasingly on doctors who graduated in the UK and Europe – in 2007, one in seven doctors under 30 years old had graduated outside Europe, but this had dropped to one in 20 by 2012.

Complaints against younger doctors are likely to be serious

Doctors under 30 years old receive fewer complaints than their older colleagues. However, when a complaint is made, it is more likely to be of a serious nature and result in a warning or sanction (see figure below).

Image shows risk of doctors in different age groups receiving a complaint

The report also shows that the overall number of complaints against doctors have more than doubled since 2007 to 8,109 in 2012. But this doesn’t mean that medical standards are falling – higher expectations from patients, better clinical governance systems and greater willingness to raise concerns could all contribute to the rise.

The complaints that we receive about doctors come from five main sources: the public, employers, doctors, the GMC and the police. Of these sources, the public make the largest number of complaints against doctors. In 2012, they made more than 5,000 complaints, but only one in five required an investigation - the vast majoirtiy weren't suitable for us to take action on.

Many of these complaints should be investigated at a local level, through the patient’s GP practice or local hospital, showing that more needs to be done to help patients understand where to make a complaint.

Five facts from the report

  • There were 252,553 doctors on the medical register in 2012 – 57% of were male; 43% were female.
  • 62% of the complaints we received in 2012 came from the public. Women aged 46–60 years are most likely to complain – they made 260 complaints per million people in 2012.
  • Emergency medicine lost 12% of its doctors in training between 2012 and 2013 – the largest proportion of trainees when compared to other training specialities.
  • Complaints might be an indicator of future problems: doctors who received one complaint during 2007–11 were three times more likely, than those who previously had no complaints, to receive a complaint in 2012 that met our threshold for investigation.
  • 843 doctors from 140 countries were given temporary registration in 2012, to support athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Find out more

Visit our state of medical education and practice web page to investigate our findings and download the report. If you’re short on time, read the executive summary (pdf).

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