Factors associated with dropout in medical education: a literature review

Authors

  • Lotte Dyhrberg O’Neill,

    1. Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
    2. Clinical Locomotion Science, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
    3. Education Development Unit, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
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  • Birgitta Wallstedt,

    1. Education Development Unit, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
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  • Berit Eika,

    1. Unit for Medical Education, University of Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
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  • Jan Hartvigsen

    1. Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
    2. Clinical Locomotion Science, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
    3. Nordic Institute for Chiropractic and Clinical Biomechanics, Odense, Denmark
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Lotte O’Neill, University of Southern Denmark, Campus Vej 55, Odense 5230, Odense M, Denmark. Tel: 00 45 6550 3488; Fax: 00 45 6550 3480; E-mail: ldyhrberg@health.sdu.dk

Abstract

Medical Education 2011: 45: 440–454

Context  Medical school dropout may have negative consequences for society, patients, the profession, schools and dropouts. To our knowledge, the literature dealing with dropout from medical school has never been systematically and critically appraised.

Objectives  This review aimed to systematically and critically review studies dealing with factors found to be associated with dropping out of medical school.

Methods  A systematic critical literature review of the international peer-reviewed research literature on medical education was performed. A primary search was conducted and subsequently supplemented with ancestry and descendancy searches. The population of interest was medical students and the outcome was dropout. Abstract/title screening and quality assessment were performed by two independent researchers. Studies were assessed on six domains of quality: study participation; study attrition; predictor measurement; measurement of and accounting for confounders; outcome measurement, and analysis. Only studies that accounted for confounding were included in the final analysis.

Results  Of 625 studies found, 48 were quality-assessed and 13 of these were eventually included based on their fulfilment of our quality-related criteria. A range of entry qualifications seemed to be associated with greater chances of a student dropping out (odds ratio [OR] = 1.65–4.00). Struggling academically in medical school may be strongly associated with dropout. By contrast, no specific pattern of demographic variables was particularly important in relation to dropout. The effects of socio-economic, psychological and educational variables on dropout were not well investigated.

Conclusions  More research into causal models and theory testing, which considers the effects of education, organisation and institution, is necessary if we are to learn more about how we can actively prevent medical student withdrawal.

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