GROWING numbers of students from less well-off families are being accepted into medical school, weakening the middle-class grip on the profession, new research will show.
The research to be published shortly will reveal that students recently awarded places in medicine come from increasingly varied backgrounds.
While the new HPAT test -- introduced last year to screen a student's suitability to be a doctor -- had played a role in this change, the major driver had been the rule that medical schools would only accept the points based on one sitting of the Leaving Cert, the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) was told.
Dr Siun O'Flynn, head of medical education at UCC, said the findings would show the impact of ending the system that allowed students to combine results from two Leaving Certs to make up the points.
Dr O'Flynn said under the old system, grind schools and private schools could guide a student to strategically pick subjects over two sittings to get maximum points.
"The new approach eliminates that. . . the grind schools could attempt to suggest to students that taking a certain subject confers an advantage," she said. "There is less of an opportunity to do that. That has had the biggest impact."
The HPAT exam -- which all would-be medical students must now sit to screen for problem-solving and interpersonal skills, has had an impact, with those with lesser points beating some of the higher achievers for a university place.
The controversial test was introduced last year but there is no evidence that it has discriminated against female candidates, Dr O'Flynn added.
She would advise against expensive private courses aimed at preparing students for HPAT, saying they would be better off looking up previous questions on the internet and looking at the structure of the exam.
She also said she would not favour doubling the maths points for medical applicants.
"Entry and selection to medicine has changed and it will continue to be reviewed," she said.
The new approach will be rigorously evaluated but the real answers will take about five years and one of the important results will be how well the 'old' and 'new' students do once they are working doctors.
Separately, during a debate on the actions of the HSE and Department of Health that had led to "mass emigration of highly trained doctors", it was claimed that a first-year medical student here only has an 18pc chance of becoming a consultant in an Irish hospital.
Dr Matthew Sadlier, head of the IMO's junior doctor section, said every July doctors in their early 30s had to emigrate, which was "incredibly distressing".