Guest Blog – A Guide to Widening Participation: My Story by Anam Chaudhry Dentistry alumna

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This guest blog is written by Anam Chaudhry, a recent alumna of the School of Dentistry at the University of Birmingham. Anam participated in the nationwide widening participation programme Realising Opportunities before starting university and shares her story to support the next generation of students realise their ambition of studying to be come a dentist.

Guide to Widening Participation My Story

Hi, I am Anam Chaudhry. I am a recent dental graduate, I officially (virtually) graduated on the 27th of July. I will always look back on my years at Birmingham fondly. However, I cannot say the same about the application process. I remember the restless nights before results day, my heart racing whenever I received an alert from UCAS and, most importantly, I remember the relief when I finally secured my coveted place at the University of Birmingham.

Coming from an inner-city school and being the only person to apply to dentistry in my year. I was told time and time again that studying Dentistry is not attainable for someone like me. I was considering changing my career path but then I was introduced to widening participation. Being the first generation to go to University from my family meant I was eligible to participate in various widening access programmes. These programmes support the fair access of students from groups that are often under-represented in higher education. These programmes allowed me to aspire towards, and played a big role in, securing my place at University.

Being involved with widening participation as an applicant and then as a mentor, I recognise the privilege that has been given to me. I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can inspire you in some small way. Many applicants have approached me wishing they knew about widening participation earlier. So here is my effort at trying to demystify the process.
Let’s begin with basics, what is widening participation?

Widening participation refers to a policy concerned with removing barriers to entering University for students from low income and underrepresented backgrounds. This is especially relevant in courses such as medicine where historically representation of lower socioeconomic classes has been lower.
Why is Widening participation important?

Students from underrepresented and low income backgrounds often face several barriers which deter them from applying to higher education (HE). They may come from an environment in which HE is not the norm, they may be a carer or come from a school where high academic achievement is the exception (1). I have often found that these students have an abundance of talent but are unsure of their potential. Widening participation aims to minimise these barriers and level the playing field for all. Additionally, by encouraging students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, we can aim to increase social mobility and diversify our NHS further.

My tips for applying through a widening participation programe:

Determine your eligibility
As courses can be competitive, Universities have criteria that you must meet to be eligible for the schemes. Generally, the criteria are as below. However, I must stress that each situation is different and you should speak to the organisations involved for specific advice.
– Postcode checker: A neighbourhood with low progression rates to higher education is defined by a postcode which are in POLAR quintile 1 & 2- more information can be found here :
– Performance of your school and college – if you attend a school which has a low higher education output, speak to your head of Sixth form
– Be living in, or have lived in, local authority care or are a young carer
– Being the first generation to attend University

You are eligible – next steps
Generally, there are two pathways, the first is University specific. These widening participation schemes are unique to that University. For example, at University of Birmingham (UoB) we have our Pathways to Birmingham which includes programmes like Routes to the Professions: Dentistry. Completion of this program means you will gain extra consideration and two offers, one standard and one Pathways to Birmingham offer. This applies only to UoB.

There are also schemes that are nationwide. Realising Opportunities is a nationwide widening participation scheme. It is in partnership with 16 research intensive universities, many of which offer Dentistry. The advantage of this scheme is that you can receive contextual offers from several universities. This is the scheme I opted for, from which I gained 3 out of 4 offers, two being contextual offers*.

Offers I gained after completing Realising opportunities:
– Manchester: Normal offer – A*AA vs Realising opportunities offer- ABB
– Kings: AAA (no reduced RO offer)
– Birmingham: Normal offer- AAA vs Realising opportunities offer- ABB

My Tips for finding a Widening Participation programme:

Start early – Most programmes will begin in Year 12. You do not have to pick the course you are applying for yet but APPLY for the schemes all the same.
Make your list – There are 16 dental schools in the UK. Many of which have their own widening participation programme. Make a list of every University and their scheme and then cut down according to what appeals to you.
Summer Schools – Several Universities offer summer schools to allow you to explore more about University life and the course. DentView KCL, The Sutton Trust summer programmes are but a few.
Get social – Most Universities have widening participation societies led by university students. At Birmingham we have Birmingham Widening Access to the Medical Sciences – BWAMS (see below). These societies regularly hold events on how to maximise your chances of success. Ask to speak to a dental student they will be more than happy to give you advice.

Finally, to end….
Persevere! If I had accepted that Dentistry was unattainable for me, I would not be where I am today. There are several ways to get into Dentistry, you must be passionate enough and willing to sacrifice your time.
You are not inferior to anyone. This is something I myself went through in dental school. It’s very easy to fall victim to imposter syndrome, however once you have your offer you are on the same level as your peers. You will have all been chosen because the University saw potential within you. You are no less than the other applicants. Believe in yourself.

*contextual offers are offered after successful completion of the programme. They often comprise of a grade reduction of up to 2 A level Grades.

References :
1) Apampa, Akinyemi et al. “Challenges In Widening Participation Outreach: Is Enough Being Done To Tackle The Under-Representation Of Low-Income Students In Medicine?.” Advances in medical education and practice vol. 10 917-923. 1 Nov. 2019, doi:10.2147/AMEP.S211895

By Anam Chaudhry

Instagram: @wideningaccesstodentistry

A huge thanks to Anam for all the time and effort she put into putting this blog together.

For more information about BWAMS activities and support follow these links:

You Tube:
Twitter: @BWAMSbirmingham and @we_are_medics
Instagram: @bwamsbirmingham and @wearemedics

MDS Outreach can be found using the following links:
Twitter: @UoB_MDSOutreach
Instagram: @uob_mdsoutreach

Author: Clare Ray

Clare Ray is the College of Medical and Dental Sciences lead for Outreach and Widening Participation.