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1.  The effect of a brief social intervention on the examination results of UK medical students: a cluster randomised controlled trial 
Background
Ethnic minority (EM) medical students and doctors underperform academically, but little evidence exists on how to ameliorate the problem. Psychologists Cohen et al. recently demonstrated that a written self-affirmation intervention substantially improved EM adolescents' school grades several months later. Cohen et al.'s methods were replicated in the different setting of UK undergraduate medical education.
Methods
All 348 Year 3 white (W) and EM students at one UK medical school were randomly allocated to an intervention condition (writing about one's own values) or a control condition (writing about another's values), via their tutor group. Students and assessors were blind to the existence of the study. Group comparisons on post-intervention written and OSCE (clinical) assessment scores adjusted for baseline written assessment scores were made using two-way analysis of covariance. All assessment scores were transformed to z-scores (mean = 0 standard deviation = 1) for ease of comparison. Comparisons between types of words used in essays were calculated using t-tests. The study was covered by University Ethics Committee guidelines.
Results
Groups were statistically identical at baseline on demographic and psychological factors, and analysis was by intention to treat [intervention group EM n = 95, W n = 79; control group EM n = 77; W n = 84]. As predicted, there was a significant ethnicity by intervention interaction [F(4,334) = 5.74; p = 0.017] on the written assessment. Unexpectedly, this was due to decreased scores in the W intervention group [mean difference = 0.283; (95% CI = 0.093 to 0.474] not improved EM intervention group scores [mean difference = -0.060 (95% CI = -0.268 to 0.148)]. On the OSCE, both W and EM intervention groups outperformed controls [mean difference = 0.261; (95%CI = -0.047 to -0.476; p = 0.013)]. The intervention group used more optimistic words (p < 0.001) and more "I" and "self" pronouns in their essays (p < 0.001), whereas the control group used more "other" pronouns (p < 0.001) and more negations (p < 0.001).
Discussion
Cohen et al.'s finding that a brief self-affirmation task narrowed the ethnic academic achievement gap was replicated on the written assessment but against expectations, this was due to reduced performance in the W group. On the OSCE, the intervention improved performance in both W and EM groups. In the intervention condition, participants tended to write about themselves and used more optimistic words than in the control group, indicating the task was completed as requested. The study shows that minimal interventions can have substantial educational outcomes several months later, which has implications for the multitude of seemingly trivial changes in teaching that are made on an everyday basis, whose consequences are never formally assessed.
doi:10.1186/1472-6920-9-35
PMCID: PMC2717066  PMID: 19552810
2.  The educational background and qualifications of UK medical students from ethnic minorities 
Background
UK medical students and doctors from ethnic minorities underperform in undergraduate and postgraduate examinations. Although it is assumed that white (W) and non-white (NW) students enter medical school with similar qualifications, neither the qualifications of NW students, nor their educational background have been looked at in detail. This study uses two large-scale databases to examine the educational attainment of W and NW students.
Methods
Attainment at GCSE and A level, and selection for medical school in relation to ethnicity, were analysed in two separate databases. The 10th cohort of the Youth Cohort Study provided data on 13,698 students taking GCSEs in 1999 in England and Wales, and their subsequent progression to A level. UCAS provided data for 1,484,650 applicants applying for admission to UK universities and colleges in 2003, 2004 and 2005, of whom 52,557 applied to medical school, and 23,443 were accepted.
Results
NW students achieve lower grades at GCSE overall, although achievement at the highest grades was similar to that of W students. NW students have higher educational aspirations, being more likely to go on to take A levels, especially in science and particularly chemistry, despite relatively lower achievement at GCSE. As a result, NW students perform less well at A level than W students, and hence NW students applying to university also have lower A-level grades than W students, both generally, and for medical school applicants. NW medical school entrants have lower A level grades than W entrants, with an effect size of about -0.10.
Conclusion
The effect size for the difference between white and non-white medical school entrants is about B0.10, which would mean that for a typical medical school examination there might be about 5 NW failures for each 4 W failures. However, this effect can only explain a portion of the overall effect size found in undergraduate and postgraduate examinations of about -0.32.
doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-21
PMCID: PMC2359745  PMID: 18416818
3.  Even one star at A level could be "too little, too late" for medical student selection 
Background
More and more medical school applicants in England and Wales are gaining the maximum grade at A level of AAA, and the UK Government has now agreed to pilot the introduction of a new A* grade. This study assessed the likely utility of additional grades of A* or of A**.
Methods
Statistical analysis of university selection data collected by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), consisting of data from 1,484,650 applicants to UCAS for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, of whom 23,628 were medical school applicants, and of these 14,510 were medical school entrants from the UK, aged under 21, and with three or four A level results. The main outcome measure was the number of points scored by applicants in their best three A level subjects.
Results
Censored normal distributions showed a good fit to the data using maximum likelihood modelling. If it were the case that A* grades had already been introduced, then at present about 11% of medical school applicants and 18% of entrants would achieve the maximum score of 3 A*s. Projections for the years 2010, 2015 and 2020 suggest that about 26%, 35% and 46% of medical school entrants would have 3 A* grades.
Conclusion
Although A* grades at A level will help in medical student selection, within a decade, a third of medical students will gain maximum grades. While revising the A level system there is a strong argument, as proposed in the Tomlinson Report, for introducing an A** grade.
doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-16
PMCID: PMC2335100  PMID: 18394196
4.  'It gives you an understanding you can't get from any book.' The relationship between medical students' and doctors' personal illness experiences and their performance: a qualitative and quantitative study 
Background
Anecdotes abound about doctors' personal illness experiences and the effect they have on their empathy and care of patients. We formally investigated the relationship between doctors' and medical students' personal illness experiences, their examination results, preparedness for clinical practice, learning and professional attitudes and behaviour towards patients.
Methods
Newly-qualified UK doctors in 2005 (n = 2062/4784), and two cohorts of students at one London medical school (n = 640/749) participated in the quantitative arm of the study. 37 Consultants, 1 Specialist Registrar, 2 Clinical Skills Tutors and 25 newly-qualified doctors participated in the qualitative arm. Newly-qualified doctors and medical students reported their personal illness experiences in a questionnaire. Doctors' experiences were correlated with self-reported preparedness for their new clinical jobs. Students' experiences were correlated with their examination results, and self-reported anxiety and depression. Interviews with clinical teachers, newly-qualified doctors and senior doctors qualitatively investigated how personal illness experiences affect learning, professional attitudes, and behaviour.
Results
85.5% of newly-qualified doctors and 54.4% of medical students reported personal illness experiences. Newly-qualified doctors who had been ill felt less prepared for starting work (p < 0.001), but those who had only experienced illness in a relative or friend felt more prepared (p = 0.02). Clinical medical students who had been ill were more anxious (p = 0.01) and had lower examination scores (p = 0.006). Doctors felt their personal illness experiences helped them empathise and communicate with patients. Medical students with more life experience were perceived as more mature, empathetic, and better learners; but illness at medical school was recognised to impede learning.
Conclusion
The majority of the medical students and newly qualified doctors we studied reported personal illness experiences, and these experiences were associated with lower undergraduate examination results, higher anxiety, and lower preparedness. However reflection on such experiences may have improved professional attitudes such as empathy and compassion for patients. Future research is warranted in this area.
doi:10.1186/1472-6920-7-50
PMCID: PMC2211477  PMID: 18053231

Results 1-4 (4)