Social and Racial Ethnic Disparities in Clinical Psychology

02nd March 2023

Rubbia discusses and reflects on her experience of structural barriers within the clinical psychology doctorate application process that led to the termination of her interview. 

Within recent years, there has been significant progress in diversifying the clinical psychology workforce. However,

the prerequisite of a driving license required by some courses continues to fuel social disparities within the selection process.

I want to highlight that whilst I understand a need for access to a vehicle that certain courses require due to rural placements, the lack of flexibility towards this prerequisite will continue to contribute to a workforce that limits representation with respect to socioeconomic status as well as other protected characteristics including race and ethnicity.

As the eldest of four raised by a single mother, my childhood was plagued by financial instability. Aged 16, I became financially independent, working throughout college and my university degrees. Despite attaining scholarships for both my postgraduate degrees, I had to work full-time throughout these to cover rent and additional living expenses.

The disproportion of London living costs relative to monthly income meant that obtaining a driving license was not a priority. Living in London, driving is not essential.

Thus, I only considered obtaining a license for the purpose of a clinical doctorate in psychology. This was only made financially possible recently by obtaining a role as a research assistant.

To ensure I could pass my test in time for the doctorate interview, I paid a substantial amount for a crash course, delving into my savings. However, a close bereavement this year halted my lessons. As a result, I could not sit my test before the interview, and I had planned to pass my test before the course start date if I was offered a place.

Nonetheless, in spite of sharing these mitigating conditions, my interview was terminated with no scope for flexibility towards my personal circumstances.

Unfortunately, I felt there was limited compassion from the course as I did not receive a call or follow-up once the decision had been made. Soon after, I noticed that I felt anxious when thinking about Dclin Psychology training –  I questioned my belonging to the course and wondered how containing and supportive the training would be based on this initial insight.

Currently, around a third of Dclin Psy courses require a driving license as part of the application process. Some courses have demonstrated flexibility to this pre-requisite, such as the University of Oxford and Surrey, by supporting trainees in attaining driving tests and extending the required license deadline. Other courses such as Lancaster, Exeter, Sheffield and Essex have relayed that whilst a driving license is strongly recommended, it is not mandatory. However, this flexibility has not been adopted by all universities.

This pre-requisite for a driving license within NHS health careers is unique to clinical psychology trainees. For example, medical and nursing students are not required to obtain a license despite being required to attend placements in various locations.

Upon my interview being terminated, I took to Twitter to express my disappointment and received a number of direct messages from aspiring psychologists whose anxieties about this structural barrier in the application process mirrored my own. Many shared that this pre-requisite majorly impacted or delayed their application to courses. Other responses included: 

From Lancaster Dclin Psychology Twitter page

@LancsDclinPsy “We don’t think there is a need for a driving licence to do training & haven’t had this requirement for a decade+. It makes life easier but we’ve had many people qualify without one. It’s clearly one of a number of issues that programmes could be looking at to address access”

From Dr Malcom Clayton

@Malcomclayton “That’s very disappointing…I had my license but didn’t drive once, relying on my bike and trains. It was perfectly possible in and across Coventry, Warwickshire, Birmingham, and Worcestershire!”

From an aspiring psychologist 

”Think x and x also require a licence at interview. Been on hold for lessons for ages so it’s influencing where I apply – so frustrating.”

From Dr Claire Williams

@drcsquare “@UK_ACP were very clear in their recent document about addressing inequalities that the requirememt to have a driving licence was not okay and reinforces the very issues that prevent diversity in the workforce”

Upon reflection, it is evident that such a requirement fuels the historic middle-class nature of the profession.

Whilst certain universities have expressed an anti-racist/discriminatory ethos, racial inequalities cannot be tackled if social inequalities are neglected, as there is abundant evidence to showcase the intimate relationship between the two. It is disheartening that social inequalities can not only impact the educational and professional attainment needed to apply for the doctorate but acts as an additional obstacle due to structural barriers within the selection process. 

The requirement of a driving license limits accessibility for a whole group of aspiring psychologists that are just as deserving as other applicants. A failure to consider socio-cultural factors that impact applicants will halt the progression of a truly inclusive workforce representative of all the different intersections present within our populations.


Rubbia A

Rubbia Ali

Rubbia is an experienced research & clinical mental health worker with a history of working within community & inpatient settings, adult community mental health, CAMHS, eating disorders and Muslim communities. Rubbia currently works at King’s College London, supporting various mental health-related projects. Rubbia has studied an MSc. in Psychiatric Research and PGDip in Cultural Psychology and Psychiatry and has a special interest in providing & developing culturally-sensitive services as well as overcoming barriers to service access for ethnically minoritised and faith-centred communities.

Twitter handle: @rubbiapsych