Graduate entry gives some medical students the edge

medical education

By Mardi Chapman

4 Jun 2019

Graduate entry into a medical program might confer some benefit in academic performance over undergraduate entry especially for students with a primary degree in health or allied health.

A study from the University of Western Australia compared student performance and progression in school leavers, non-standard entry undergraduates and graduate level entrants to their MBBS program.

School leavers and non-standard entry students entered the first year of the 6-year program while graduate entry students completed a 6-month bridging course before joining the other students in years 3-6.

The study found graduate entry students typically performed better than undergraduates in the early years of their medical degree but the differences were no longer obvious in the final two years of study.

Over years 3-6 of the program the weighted average mark (%) was mostly higher for graduates with a health or allied health background than other graduate entry students or undergraduates.

School leavers and non-standard entry students were more likely to take a leave of absence over their study program than graduate entrants. Non-standard entry students were also more likely to repeat a year than other students.

Graduate entry students had an increased odds of withdrawing from the program compared to schools leavers (OR 2.50) – predominantly driven by non-academic withdrawal such as personal reasons – but not when compared to non-standard entrants.

Overall program completion was 95.1% for graduate entry students, 97.9% for school leaver entrants and 95.9% for non-standard entry students.

Males scored significantly lower than females at every level of the course.

The researchers said better performance of graduate entry students as been attributed to more strategic learning approaches and the additional role of maturity.

“Higher academic performance by students with health professional backgrounds has been variously attributed to familiarity with medical knowledge and prior experience in the clinical setting,” they wrote in BMC Medical Education.

However the differences in academic performance between the groups were all relatively small in a high-achieving cohort.

“In the long term, the more important outcome is whether graduate entry students perform better than undergraduate entry students once they are in the medical workforce and this should be the focus of any future comparative studies.”

They said there was some evidence that academic performance throughout medical school was reflected in junior doctor performance.

Co-author Professor Sandra Carr, from the Division of Health Professions Education at UWA told the limbic that this type of study was important to help confirm that selection processes for medicine programs across the country were about right.

“About 15 years ago there was a shift towards graduate entry programs because we only had undergraduate programs. This was an attempt to widen participation from people with different backgrounds and give them more opportunity to come into medicine.”

“We do want our cohorts to be fairly representative of the communities they are going to serve so we want males and females, people from inner city and outer urban, people from the country and rural and remote areas to be training, and people from different cultural backgrounds as well.”

“I don’t have a sense that the marketplace will change from what it is now where we have about 50% undergraduate and 50% graduate entry programs,” she said.

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