Abstract

Background : Despite medical school admission committees' best efforts, a handful of seemingly capable students invariably struggle during their first year of study. Yet, even as entrance criteria continue to broaden beyond cognitive qualifications, attention inevitably reverts back to such factors when seeking to understand these phenomena. Using a host of applicant, admission, and post-admission variables, the purpose of this inductive study, then, was to identify a constellation of student characteristics that, taken collectively, would be predictive of students at-risk of underperforming during the first year of medical school. In it, we hypothesize that a wider range of factors than previously recognized could conceivably play roles in understanding why students experience academic problems early in the medical educational continuum.

Methods : The study sample consisted of the five most recent matriculant cohorts from a large, southeastern medical school (n=537). Independent variables reflected: 1) the personal demographics of applicants (e.g., age, gender); 2) academic criteria (e.g., undergraduate grade point averages [GPA], medical college admission test); 3) selection processes (e.g., entrance track, interview scores, committee votes); and 4) other indicators of personality and professionalism (e.g., Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test™ emotional intelligence scores, NEO PI-R™ personality profiles, and appearances before the Professional Code Committee [PCC]). The dependent variable, first-year underperformance, was defined as ANY action (repeat, conditionally advance, or dismiss) by the college's Student Progress and Promotions Committee (SPPC) in response to predefined academic criteria. This study protocol was approved by the local medical institutional review board (IRB).

Results : Of the 537 students comprising the study sample, 61 (11.4%) met the specified criterion for academic underperformance. Significantly increased academic risks were identified among students who 1) had lower mean undergraduate science GPAs (OR=0.24, p=0.001); 2) entered medical school via an accelerated BS/MD track (OR=16.15, p=0.002); 3) were 31 years of age or older (OR=14.76, p=0.005); and 4) were non-unanimous admission committee admits (OR=0.53, p=0.042). Two dimensions of the NEO PI-R™ personality inventory, openness (+) and conscientiousness (-), were modestly but significantly correlated with academic underperformance. Only for the latter, however, were mean scores found to differ significantly between academic performers and underperformers. Finally, appearing before the college's PCC (OR=4.21, p=0.056) fell just short of statistical significance.

Conclusions : Our review of various correlates across the matriculation process highlights the heterogeneity of factors underlying students' underperformance during the first year of medical school and challenges medical educators to understand the complexity of predicting who, among admitted matriculants, may be at future academic risk.

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-1-2014

Notes/Citation Information

Published in Medical Education Online, v. 19, 22919, p. 1-7.

© 2014 Terry D. Stratton and Carol L. Elam. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/meo.v19.22919