Looking for a better future: Identity construction in socio-economically deprived 16-year olds considering a career in medicine
The medical profession has traditionally been dominated by middle-class white males in the UK, but it is a political priority to widen access to all socio-economic and ethnic groups. This paper describes an empirical study based on biographical life narrative interviews with 45 16-year olds from inner London who were considering applying to medical school, drawn mainly from the most socio-economically deprived 25% of the population. Most of them were immigrants or the children of immigrants, and all had been selected by their teachers as highly able and motivated. Students were asked to "tell the story of your life so far". Interviews were tape recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically. Five influences on the development of academic identity and medical ambition were identified: (1) the private sphere (Bourdieu's 'family habitus'), especially a family meta-narrative of immigration to secure a better future and of education as the vehicle to regaining a high social position previously held in the family of origin; (2) the school (Bourdieu's 'institutional habitus'), and especially the input of particular teachers who inspired and supported the student; (3) friends and peers, many of whom the student had chosen strategically because of shared aspirations to academic success; (4) psychological resources such as maturity, determination and resilience; and (5) past experiences (especially meeting the challenge of immigration, changing school, or dealing with illness or death in a relative), which had proved formative and strengthening to the individual's developing ego. Despite their talents and ambitions, many students had important gaps in their knowledge of the application process and lacked sophistication in the 'admissions game'. The findings are discussed in relation to contemporary educational and social theories. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.