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Medical Education - Attrition In Medical School

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ATTRITION IN MEDICAL SCHOOL

If you have been accepted to a U.S. medical school, you are one of a select group of students who have survived the successive academic prunings of elementary school, high school, college, and medical school selection procedures. In addition, you rank in the upper 50% of all students entering graduate and professional schools. Medical schools seek to graduate as many of their entrants as possible; therefore you stand a better chance of successfully completing your medical education than students in other professional schools in the United States or medical students in practically every other country. While the attrition rate in American professional schools is relatively high, that for medicine has consistently been relatively low. Nevertheless, any loss of medical students is a loss to society and is especially painful when one considers the many qualified applicants who were rejected and thus denied an opportunity to study medicine.

It is therefore encouraging to report that the overall dropout rate has remained very low over the years. The withdrawals from the total student enrollment in a recent year were 751, or 1.85% of the enrollment. Moreover, even this figure may in reality be artificially high because one-fifth of the students (143, or 0.35%) withdrew to pursue advanced study and are expected to return to medical school. In addition, less than one-third of the withdrawals or dismissals (223) were for academic reasons, the remainder (385, or 1%), for other reasons, making, in actuality, the true attrition rate closer to 0.5%. This means that admissions committees have been able to select from the large pool of qualified applicants those most likely to succeed. If accepted, you should feel confident that with consistent hard work you will most likely complete your course of studies.

An analysis of student records over an extended period has provided significant information regarding the relationship of various student characteristics to attrition that can help you assess your own chances for success and indicate when extra care and effort may be called for. Successful students are more likely to have attended an undergraduate college with a sizable premedical program that they found to be both difficult and competitive. The premedical grades of academic dropouts are substantially lower than are the grades of both successful students and nonacademic dropouts. The average test scores for dropouts are much lower than those of successful students. Unsuccessful students report almost twice as many personal problems as do successful students. Older students have a much higher dropout rate than do younger ones. Women have a somewhat higher attrition rate than men have. It should be noted, however, that studies have shown that the academic dropout rate was the same for both sexes but the dropout rate for nonacademic reasons (marriage or pregnancy) was almost three times higher in women. The dropout rate did not differ significantly for married students or for those reporting similar time allocations to study, part-time employment, or extracurricular activities. Successful students tend to be influenced by a desire for independence and for prestige, whereas unsuccessful students are most likely to be influenced in their career choice by such additional factors as reading and by religious and service motivation.

The following are some specific suggestions that can reduce your changes of dropping out of medical school. Prior to entering medical school you should obtain a strong background of fundamental knowledge in the sciences and develop good study habits; seek opportunities to test your motivation for a career in medicine by exposure to health science-related work (lab assistant, hospital aide, volunteer work with handicapped, visiting hospitals and medical schools); and seek admission to medical schools where you can most likely gain admission and that are most suited to your abilities and interests.

If you fail at the end of a year and are offered a chance to repeat, accept the opportunity to do so if you still want to study medicine. The chances are high that you, like many previous repeaters, will successfully complete your studies. Should you decide to withdraw voluntarily, do so only after consultation with appropriate faculty and administrative members of your school.

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