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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 September 1; 335(7617): 452.
PMCID: PMC1962852
From the Frontline

About the boys and the Bs

Des Spence, general practitioner, Glasgow

The door burst open. “Midweek special,” he shouted, clutching five Star Trek videos to his chest. We pulled the curtains; it was a Wednesday “Trek-athon.” We were four boys sharing a flat and skiving lectures. Somehow Star Trek just seemed more important than the roots of the brachial plexus.

I wanted to study consistently but I couldn't. Each term I would carefully draw up a study plan, as my mum had suggested. But eight weeks into the term it stared blankly down at me, and not a stroke of reading had been done. I would grapple around in the dark of my head trying to find the work switch, but to no avail. Two weeks before the exams the lights would go on and I could pour in the information. However, when my brain thought it had enough to pass, the lights went out again.

My flat mates were the same. We were four Titans of mediocrity astride the top of the standard deviation curve—we knew that a slip either way would lead to folly and certain destruction.

This year's exam results are out and again boys are left floating in an educational void. No one seems to care too much. The male intake to medical school is declining, and is now roughly 40% of the total. Negativity towards male medical students as a group also seems acceptable and goes unchallenged. So does it matter if boys aren't entering the profession? The simple answer is no, as clearly admission committees must choose the best candidates, irrespective of gender.

But life is more complex. Discussions about gender are difficult and often dissolve into the stereotypes and rhetoric of past conflicts. But I suggest that the battle to get more women into medicine is over: now there is a pressing need to make sense of the peace. For women and men are surprisingly similar but also surprisingly different—in most areas of life it seems that we complement, depend on, and need each other. We need men in medicine not to restore some misguided sense of status but to bring balance to the workforce and choice to patients.

So until the education system wakes up to the current educational inequalities and attempts to locate those switches in our sons' heads, please, selection committees, try to look beyond the Bs of our stupid boys. Who knows, one day they might grow up to be useful and even intelligent men.

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