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Should Medical Schools Require Personality Tests For Admission?

Currently, the most important test prospective medical students take is the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT.

Despite what schools say, an MCAT score holds tremendous weight, more so than a brilliant essay or a stellar recommendation letter.

In an interesting New York Times piece, Pauline Chen wonders whether that score itself leads to a great physician. She discusses an article showing that students’ cognitive traits may be equally important.

Although students go through several interviews to get an assessment of their personality, these are rarely standardized, and certainly not quantified. It’s important to know, for instance, how a student responds to stress: “If I know someone is not just stress-prone, but stress-prone at the 95th percentile rather than the 65th. I would have to ask myself if that person could handle the stress of medicine.”

The concept of using cognitive traits as part of medical school admissions raises interesting questions. Can one “improve” a trait that he is deficient in? And which traits are deemed most important for a future doctor?

For the latter question, Dr. Chen notes it depends on what kind of doctors medical schools are interested in graduating. Physician-researchers would require a whole different profile from, say, a primary care doctor.

But lets take it one step further. Can cognitive traits be used to differentiate students inclined to go into procedure-based specialties? With the dire primary care shortage, maybe medical schools can preferentially accept students who have a personality more inclined towards generalist care.

I’m just kidding, of course. But don’t tell me that didn’t cross your mind.

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*


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One Response to “Should Medical Schools Require Personality Tests For Admission?”

  1. First we need to ask what is a good doctor. Better yet, what makes a good cardiologist, family doc etc.. Then we need to correlate our existing benchmarks with actual outcome. Do students who get A’s in Organic chemistry make better psychiatrist? As a percentage of total knowledge, the heavily valued basic science grade become less important as one advances in a medical career. Most learning occurs after we leave school. When I look at a potential associate, I value clinical judgement and acumen, but I also require conscientiousness , compassion, vision, work ethic, and willingness to participate with the team. The reason why my docs are well loved by patients and respected medical community is because I put MCAT scores in their proper place on the my criteria list. The converse also applies.

    Our medical educators are quick to make assumptions about MCATs and the like, that don’t appear to have a basis in reality; at least anecdotally. For a profession that relies on outcome studies and a strong evidence base for its actions, there seems to be little science used to evaluate the validity of their own medical education benchmarks.

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