Medical Student Selection In Australia- A Behind The Scenes Look

February 28, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Over the past two decades there has been significant changes in the way in which Australian medical schools select their students. Earlier, a school leaver’s matriculation score was the primary benchmark for selection into medical school. This has been replaced by a wider range of selection procedures for admission into medical school programs. You have school-leaver programs and graduate-entry programs as well as mixed-entry programs. The change in selection procedures has been driven in part by the need for medical schools to reduce discrimination in selection procedures and to access a broader section of students.

Selection strategies broadly take into consideration educational achievement in conjunction with desirable personal characteristics such as communication skills and empathy, a passion for medicine and medical research and an aptitude for intensive course work and facing challenges. The selection strategies of individual medical schools attempt to identify applicants who meet these two criteria — the greatest aptitude for completing a medical course and the personality traits necessary to be competent medical practitioners.

Bryant and friends in the surgery department at Iringa regional hospital Prior academic performance 

There is no denying that a high-level academic ability is necessary to complete a medical course. According to the Australian Medical Education Study, there is strong evidence that prior academic performance is the best predictor of excellence during the course and even after graduation as a doctor. With such compelling proof of the significance of prior academic performance, matriculation scores and grade point average remains the main selection tool for admission to Australian medical schools. 

However, research shows that when used as the sole selection criterion, academic performance creates a bias against applicants of equal suitability from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Several studies have shown that this bias has its roots in secondary schooling. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds lack access to the courses, support and role models that are necessary to achieve their full academic potential and to develop the expectation of participating in higher education. In addition, academic performance does not measure an applicant’s values and personal characteristics.

To offset this bias, medical schools in Australia generally use a combination of academic and non-academic measures to evaluate a student’s suitability. Academic measures include prior academic performance and written problem-solving tests, while non-academic measures include clinical experience, interviews and written work to evaluate applicants’ values and personal characteristics.

Aptitude tests & Interviews

To facilitate the admission of a broader spectrum of students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, medical schools have now lowered cut-off scores for matriculation and GPA. Instead,other methods such as aptitude tests are used to evaluate students. 

Most Australian medical schools use interviews to assess students’ personal attributes and non-academic skills. The traditional interview consists of a panel of two or three interviewers questioning and discussing an applicant for 30–60 minutes. Within this, there is wide variation in the structuring of panel interviews, from minimally structured to highly structured..

Clinical Experience

Another aspect that plays a significant role in determining whether a student’s application will or will not get approved is their level clinical experience. Students who have participated in a medical placement program or have spent time shadowing a physician or volunteered at a local healthcare establishment would get the edge over a similarly qualified candidate without any clinical experience as it acts as an indicator of their true interest and passion in medicine.