Personality could open door to med school

January 3, 2003

Scottish applicants to medical schools are being tested for narcissism, empathy and moral reasoning in a radical project that hopes to transform the admissions process and promote wider access.

Medical schools have among the highest entrance requirements of any discipline, currently four A and one B grade at Higher level for Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, and three A and two B grades for Aberdeen, Dundee and St Andrews universities.

But Mary Ann Lumsden, Glasgow's associate dean for admissions, said many pupils did not sit enough Highers to apply. "What we need to strive for is an admissions process that will give equal opportunity to all, regardless of whether they went to Eton or a Glasgow comprehensive."

Glasgow's medical school has embarked on a project, funded by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council and National Health Service Education for Scotland, that uses a range of problem-solving and psychometric tests as a potential admissions tool. Seedcorn funding came from the Sutton Trust.

Two cohorts of Scottish medical applicants - 1,000 in total - have already voluntarily undergone the three-hour battery of tests. The papers were not marked until after admissions decisions had been made, so they had no impact on applicants' success.

The tests aim to discover who would be suitable for a career in medicine by assessing not only problem-solving skills but also four personality traits: narcissism and aloofness, which are seen as negative, and empathy and self-esteem, which are seen as positive.

Glasgow is also using tests being developed in Australia to assess moral and ethical reasoning. Problem-solving testing in Australia had enabled institutions to reduce entrance requirements, Dr Lumsden said. She was "extremely keen" on the prospect of this happening in UK, since it would widen access to a bigger pool of applicants.

The Glasgow team will monitor students' progress throughout their courses. It hopes to publish initial findings in spring. Dr Lumsden believes that there will be solid data from the project within two years.

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