Objective To explore ethnic stereotypes of UK medical students in the context of academic underachievement of medical students from ethnic minorities.
Design Qualitative study using semistructured one to one interviews and focus groups.
Setting A London medical school.
Participants 27 year 3 medical students and 25 clinical teachers, purposively sampled for ethnicity and sex.
Methods Data were analysed using the theory of stereotype threat (a psychological phenomenon thought to negatively affect the performance of people from ethnic minorities in educational contexts) and the constant comparative method.
Results Participants believed the student-teacher relationship was vital for clinical learning. Teachers had strong perceptions about “good” clinical students (interactive, keen, respectful), and some described being aggressive towards students whom they perceived as quiet, unmotivated, and unwilling. Students had equally strong perceptions about “good” clinical teachers (encouraging, interested, interactive, non-aggressive). Students and teachers had concordant and well developed perceptions of the “typical” Asian clinical medical student who was considered over-reliant on books, poor at communicating with patients, too quiet during clinical teaching sessions, and unmotivated owing to being pushed into studying medicine by ambitious parents. Stereotypes of the “typical” white student were less well developed: autonomous, confident, and outgoing team player. Direct discrimination was not reported.
Conclusions Asian clinical medical students may be more likely than white students to be perceived stereotypically and negatively, which may reduce their learning by jeopardising their relationships with teachers. The existence of a negative stereotype about their group also raises the possibility that underperformance of medical students from ethnic minorities may be partly due to stereotype threat. It is recommended that clinical teachers be given opportunities and training to encourage them to get to know their students as individuals and thus foster positive educational relationships with them.