Appendix 21b - Medical Student Selection

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

Ferocious Geeks

There are other problems with the score based approach. Interestingly, consistent negative correlations were found between empathy scores and MCAT* scores. "It is possible," researchers conclude, "that the medical student selection process is biased in favor of nonempathetic students."[278]

* The MCAT is the medical school admissions test.

From a dental school study:

We originally held the view that our 'elite' students - those that had high grades in college, came from professional backgrounds... would be most ethical... however the opposite occurred: The 'elite' students scored low on ethics, while the less academically successful students from nonprofessional, nonmedical, and low-income origins tended to score higher.... The results were clear and consistent: students with high college grades were less ethical.[279]

The grade and test score based process selects for other qualities as well. The very structure of medical training, quoting from Academic Medicine, "promotes such fact grubbing and hypercompetitiveness that the goals of caring for anything other than grades and class rank are often lost in the medical school scramble."[280]

The premed syndrome, for example, is a pejorative term that implies that a student is, "overachieving, excessively competitive, cynical, dehumanized, overspecialized and narrow," according to an article in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.[281] Researchers wondered if this was just a stereotype. A study at Harvard concluded that the premed syndrome, "does exist at Harvard and is intensifying." Premedical students become "study machines," as described in Academic Medicine, "characterized as hypercompetative, narrow-minded, greedy and dishonest at best and 'ferocious geeks' at worst."[282]


[278] Diseker, RA and R Michielutte. "An Analysis of Empathy in Medical Students Before and After Clinical Experience." Journal of Medical Education 56(1981):1004-1010.

[279] Morris, RT and BJ Sherlock. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 12(1971):158-166.

[280] Wear, D. "Professional Development of Medical Students." Academic Medicine 72:1056-1062.

[281] Journal of Health and Social Behavior 27(1986):150.

[282] Petersdorf, RG. "A Matter of Integrity." Academic Medicine 89(1989):119-123.

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