Support for students with academic difficulties


Melissa Sayer,
Academic Unit of Dental and Medical Education,
St Bartholomew's and the
Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry,
Queen Mary Hospital, University of London,
Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE, UK.
00 44 207 601 8830;


Context  The human and financial costs of academic failure amongst medical students are extremely high. Often, remedial support is infrequently available or is available only for students failing their final examinations. We describe the design, implementation and preliminary evaluation of a remedial programme (RP) for students who experience academic difficulties.

Methods A total of 24 students were identified from Years 4 and 5 of the undergraduate medical course at our medical school. Students invited to participate were identified following failure in summative and/or continuous assessment processes. Students underwent an individual educational diagnosis by means of free discussion and a semi-structured interview. Each negotiated a problem list, action plan and learning contract with course tutors. Of the 24 students, 16 received academic support and tutorials. Tutorial content was determined by individual students and took place over a 6–12-month period, initially individually and subsequently in pairs. Regular feedback and appraisal occurred. Information was delivered to the medical school academic progress review system. Student satisfaction was investigated and subsequent examination scores reviewed.

Results The causes of academic failure were widespread and ranged from deficient study skills to financial, domestic and emotional problems. In contrast, the subjects in which students had difficulty were remarkably similar, in that they all related to core clinical skills and frequently involved communication skills. Students enjoyed the programme, reported improved motivation both for study and for their chosen career and demonstrated a greatly improved pass rate in subsequent examinations.

Conclusions The causes of academic failure in undergraduate medical students are diverse and are often not academic in origin. Students can benefit from an individually tailored remedial programme and go on to success in subsequent parts of the curriculum. Provision of individually tailored remedial teaching is labour-intensive and requires full faculty support.