Ethics an Increasingly Important Consideration in Medical School Acceptance

March 21, 2019


Once upon a time, a standout GPA and high MCAT score might have been enough to land you an interview at the medical school of your choice. But since 2015, more than two dozen medical schools across the United States have added to the battery of tests you’ll need to pass in order to land a prime spot for your studies.

Prompted by statistics like the one showing that 95 per cent of the disciplinary actions against doctors in California from 1990 to 2000 were due to issues such as negligence, unprofessional conduct and sexual misconduct, rather than incompetence, officials at Hamilton, Ontario’s McMaster University developed CASPer (Computer Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characterics). The test, engineered by Kelly Dore, a PhD in health research methods, and Dr. Harold Reiter, who sat on McMaster University’s medical school admissions committee, is designed to determine a student’s levels of compassion and ethics.

“As a society, we know that strong academic skills aren’t the only trait we value in our doctors. We want them to be excellent communicators, have a strong moral sense, and be able to be empathetic across a variety of situations,” Dore said. Yet, “We had no way of screening whether those who we invited to interview for our program also had the personal skills to problem solve and communicate in challenging situations.”

To that end, Dore launched development of CASPer, a situational judgement test that presents 12 written or video-based scenarios crafted to test an applicant’s communication skills, professionalism, motivation, empathy and collaboration skills. Test-takers have five minutes to answer three questions related to each scenario, and their answers are reviewed and marked by a diverse pool of health professionals and members of the public.

Dore first shared the CASPer concept at medical education conferences about a decade ago, with New York Medical College and New Jersey’s Rutgers University becoming the first to administer the test to prospective students. Today, more than 25 schools regularly use CASPer, which has been taken by students not only here in the US but in some 170 countries, as well. It’s also used across a variety of health disciplines including dentistry, nursing, physiotherapy, veterinarian medicine and even music therapy.

Use of the CASPer test likely will only grow. A 2004 study revealed that students who exhibited unprofessional behaviors in medical school were twice as likely to receive state disciplinary action later in their careers – something that ultimately can reflect negatively on those schools. Recognizing unprofessional traits early in a student’s path toward a medical career helps protect schools, give students a chance to correct their issues and assure  ethical and empathetic treatment of patients everywhere.

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