Differential attainment at MRCS according to gender, ethnicity, age and socioeconomic factors: A retrospective cohort study

Ricky Ellis* (Corresponding Author), Peter Brennan, Amanda Lee, Duncan S.G. Scrimgeour, Jennifer Cleland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)



A recent independent review on diversity and inclusivity highlighted concerns that barriers to surgical career progression exist for some groups of individuals and not others. Group-level differences in performance at the Intercollegiate Membership of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons (MRCS) examinations have been identified but are yet to be investigated. We aimed to characterise the relationship between sociodemographic differences and performance at MRCS.

Retrospective cohort study.


Secondary care.


All UK MRCS candidates attempting Part A (n = 5780) and Part B (n = 2600) between 2013 and 2019 with linked sociodemographic data in the UK Medical Education Database (https://www.ukmed.ac.uk).

Main outcome measures

Chi-square tests established univariate associations with MRCS performance. Multiple logistic regression identified independent predictors of success, adjusted for medical school performance.


Statistically significant differences in MRCS pass rates were found according to gender, ethnicity, age, graduate status, educational background and socioeconomic status (all p < 0.05). After adjusting for prior academic attainment, being male (odds ratio [OR] 2.34, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.87–2.92) or a non-graduate (OR 1.98, 95% CI 1.44–2.74) were independent predictors of MRCS Part A success and being a non-graduate (OR 1.77, 95% CI 1.15–2.71) and having attended a fee-paying school (OR 1.51, 95% CI 1.08–2.10) were independent predictors of Part B success. Black and minority ethnic groups were significantly less likely to pass MRCS Part B at their first attempt (OR 0.41, 95% CI 0.18–0.92 for Black candidates and OR 0.49, 95% CI 0.35–0.69 for Asian candidates) compared to White candidates.


There is significant group-level differential attainment at MRCS, likely to represent the accumulation of privilege and disadvantage experienced by individuals throughout their education and training. Those leading surgical education now have a responsibility to identify and address the causes of these attainment differences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-272
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of Medicine
Issue number7
Early online date16 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Clinical
  • medical education
  • non-clinical
  • postgraduate
  • surgery


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