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Identifying best practice in the selection of medical students

What were the key findings?

The selection of students for entry into medical education is highly challenging. It raises questions about ensuring equity, predicting human behaviour and defining the characteristics of a good doctor. While it costs about £200,000 to train each medical student, the costs of getting the selection process wrong are far greater.

Although admissions for higher education are generally rising, most medical students still come from higher socioeconomic groups. This leaves medical schools open to criticism that existing selection methods do not grant equal and fair access to the medical profession (see for example the Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility’s Fair access to professional careers, May 2012).

We commissioned a University of Aberdeen led consortium to identify and review evidence on the effectiveness of methods used by medical schools to select students, and to collate evidence on the effectiveness of widening access initiatives to promote fair access to medicine, both in the UK and internationally.

The evidence reviewed in this study identifies the strengths and weaknesses of various selection methods with regard to a range of criteria including reliability and validity.

The research shows that the evidence is better for some methods than others, for example, multiple mini interviews, situational judgement tests, academic record and aptitude tests over the more traditional interviews, references, and autobiographical record. It should be cautioned however that the evidence is mixed and tends to evaluate effectiveness on the basis of student achievement, rather than if the student goes onto become a good doctor in the future.

The evidence base for widening access initiatives is more limited – while there is some evidence to support the effectiveness of some pre-entry interventions, further research is required to determine how widening access students can be best supported once selected and studying.

We will use the findings of this report to inform discussion and further work with the Medical Schools Council and others later this year.  

The full report

Identifying best practice in the selection of medical students.