Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics


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What do med students need before we start teaching them?
Core personal competencies important to entering students' success in medical school: What are they and how could they be assessed early in the admission process? Koenig TW, et al. Academic Medicine 2013;88(5):603-613.
Reviewed by Rebecca Tenney-Soeiro, MD

What is the study question?
What are the personal competencies that are important to medical students' success? What tools provide readily usable, standardized data in time for pre-interview screening?

How was the study done?
Core competencies were identified through a rigorous process involving literature reviews, surveys of US and Canadian admissions officers, a job analysis that identified the behaviors deemed essential for medical student success, and stakeholder input. Tools to assess competencies were identified through review of the education and employment literature. Tools were evaluated based on their psychometric properties, group differences, risk of coaching/faking, costs, and scalability.

What were the results?
The nine core personal competencies identified were:

  • ethical responsibility to self and others
  • reliability and dependability
  • service orientation
  • social skills
  • capacity for improvement
  • resilience and adaptability
  • cultural competence
  • oral communication
  • teamwork.
Different tools exist to evaluate these - they include situational judgment tests, standardized evaluations of performance, accomplishment records, personality and biographical data inventories, and local interviews.

What are the implications of these findings?
Three tools - the situational judgment tests, standardized evaluations of performance, and accomplishment records - stood out as being the most useful in providing reliable, acceptable, lower cost data in time for offering interviews. Further research should be done in using these tests together to form part of the "admissions toolbox".

Editor's note: This rigorous, arduous, well-designed study will spark an important conversation in the medical education community: what (besides academic success) is necessary at entry to medical school? There is nothing surprising in the competencies this study deemed necessary for entering medical students. What is surprising, though, is that we may enter an age in which we are asking applicants to do more testing. At the University of Calgary, applicants are asked to describe their "Top 10" experiences in their life, thus far. Much can be gleaned about applicants by reading what they choose to rate as their experiences and how they describe what they learned and how this influenced them. Perhaps we could use the nice competencies identified in this study to scale such narratives (SLB).

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