Aliya Razaaq: Blaming it on the stereotype

The recent research study published in the BMJ entitled “Ethnic stereotypes and the underachievement of UK medical students from ethnic minorities: qualitative study” discussed the underperformance of (presumably South) Asian medical students. It suggested that stereotypes of Asian students may damage their relationships with clinical teachers, resulting in their relatively poor performance in exams.

As an Asian medical student I am acutely aware of the stereotype – who chooses medicine because of the elevated perception of doctors in the Asian community. In my social circles, this is something of an in joke. The stereotype is sustained largely by the media, but has never much bothered Asian youth. Rather, it is something to smile at.
On reading the above study, I was therefore taken aback by the suggestion that these stereotypes were partially responsible for the underperformance of Asian medical students.
Most second and third generation Asians have concocted their own identity; Western influences juxtaposed with their own Eastern heritage. Asians are not a homogeneous ethnic group, which is what the study seems to assume. What evidence exists that Asian students lack motivation to study medicine? Do they really differ, as a group, from other UK medical students?
As a UK medical student, I have never experienced stereotyping by my white colleagues, or felt like relationships with teachers were jeopardised. I doubt that fellow Asian students would report differently.

Some members of the non Asian community may have no idea of the “Asian” stereotype. Studies like this one can strengthen the stereotype with negative repercussions. Instead we need to be addressing the real reasons for the underperformance of Asian medical students.  Yes, stereotypes can be demeaning and over centuries have resulted in the marginalisation of certain groups. In this particular case, by blaming the stereotype for the underperformance, we are effectively being reticent ourselves, and touching only the tip of the iceberg.

Aliya Razaaq is a Clegg Scholar with the BMJ

  • Studies are a bit of a misnomer as one can use “research” to qualify any argument. Does the report actually attempt to understand the reasons why what it is stating may be the case? or does it just present a range of facts and figures, and draw a line under that?

  • Isabelle Paling

    I am a South East Asian, mature medical student with two children. I totally agree with the study and I am grateful that finally something is being done by at least one University to tackle this sublte but devastating problem for people like me. The stereotyping is done not just by White consultants but by Asian consultants as well. I have been asked by Asian doctors why I chose to come to do medicine at my age. As an Asian woman I understand the unuttered statement “Why don’t you stay at home and look after your kids”.

    Many Asian students may escape this kind of treatment if they are young, westernised and female. I have noticed my clinical partner being ignored or intimidated but he refuses to acknowledge that, it is because of his race or religion. We all try to cope with the harsh environment of medicine in our own ways but please do not trivialise or ignore this sensitive issue just becaus you as an individual did not suffer. A million thanks to the person who had the courage to do this research.

  • With regards to the above comments, I acknowledge your experiences. However, I am not aiming to trivialise the issue or ignoring this sensitive issue. There is no denying that people’s experiences are subjective. Some people may feel stereotyped, others may not. I agree that on a general level, stereotyping needs to be rooted out of our medical practice, in relation to all ethnic groups.

    However, the point remains that there is a lot more to be considered when looking at why Asian students are underperforming, apart from the ‘stereotype issue,’ It seems slightly ignorant to blame the underperformance of an ethnic group, solely on sterotyping, because it is such a subjective experience. The problem of underperformance needs to be looked at in more depth, and the root of the problem needs to be tackled, from all angles.

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  • b Kaur

    Asian? What is Asian. Are we being lumped together again and labelled as underachievers? My brother has 2 kids, a wife, both of whom work full time. HE has just qualified as a doctor aged 36. His experience of doctors in general was arrogant and looked down upon for being a mature student. OF course he did not explain he grew up in a very poor environment, with minimal opportunities at school and parents who neglected him and were violent. It was only when he could make it out there on his own – was he able to fulfill his dream. Don’t judge us we all all different

  • Nawshad

    I am surprised to hear that Asian medical students are underperformed. I am a Srilankan medical student and i personally know some of the final year medical students who visited Srilanka for their appointments. compared to a average lankan medical student their clinical knowledge is very low. they have a knowledge of a 3rd year medical student here. i agree that Asian students are reluctant to talk and communicate. As far as Srilanka is concern everyone must know that we have a free education system and good students get the entirely free medical course in government universities. only few well off students who failed to enter the gov universities go to a country like British for higher studies. So don’t ever take those students as models for a Asian, rather Srilankan student. We as normal doctors deal with very few investigations and come to a diagnosis thanks to vast knowledge we have, only a English consultant will do. so consider the statement ‘Asian’, I know very little about other Asian countries