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