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Personality tests for med students show traits predicting success

Screening for certain personality types might improve the selection of medical school students, according to researchers.

Study suggests grades are weak predictors of clinical performance

Deborah Powell, co-author on the study, said that personality testing can be extended to other professional programs where the job involves lots of interaction with people. (Martin Schwalbe)

Researchers identified a list of key personality traits that can predict a medical school student's success during the clerkship year, where students directly interact with patients.

Key traits that predict success:

  • Calmness
  • Social confidence
  • Achievement-focused
  • Tolerance
  • Conscientiousness
  • Responsibility

The study published early this year show that grades and MCAT scores had weak relations to clinical performance.

Deborah Powell, a psychology professor at University of Guelph who co-authored the study said the findings might mean medical schools should begin implementing personality testing for admissions.

"Selection is a difficult process and it's never going to be perfect," Powell told CBC News. "So any kind of additional tools we can use to improve selection of who's going to be successful is going to be helpful."

The current selection process includes a panel interview. Some schools, such as McMaster University, use a multiple mini interview format where candidates rotate through stations with different cases to role-play, each with a different interviewer.

Powell said interpretations of candidates' answers are not standardized, and the interviews are not structured to look for personality traits.

Result inflation

However, self-reported personality testing may give inaccurate results.

"In order to implement it, you have to find a way to sort of prevent fabricating answers," she told Craig Norris, host of The Morning Edition on CBC Radio.

She gave an example of using a forced-choice method, where candidates have to pick between two equally attractive alternatives rather than simply marking on a scale how much they agree with a given option.

For those who dream of medical school but feel they score low on those key traits, it's not entirely hopeless.

Powell said that personalities can see small changes over time.

"Particularly if someone is really motivated to change, or if they have life events that just change the way they behave," she said.

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