Medical Education 2011: 45: 987–994
Context Medical students often fail to finish medical school within the designated time. An academic dismissal (AD) policy aims to enforce satisfactory progress and to enable early identification and timely support or referral of struggling students. In this study, we assessed whether the implementation of an AD policy improved study progress in the first 2 years of medical school. Additionally, we analysed its effect on the help-seeking behaviour of struggling students.
Methods We compared two AD cohorts (entering in 2005 and 2006, respectively) and two non-AD cohorts (entering in 2003 and 2004, respectively) on dropout rates, Year 1 curriculum completion rates and the percentage of students with an optimal study rate (i.e. all modules completed) at 1 and 2 years after enrolment. We also measured the effect on study progress of attending the support meetings offered.
Results The AD (n = 809) and non-AD cohorts (n = 809) did not differ significantly in dropout rate at 5 months, in Year 1 completion rate at 2 years and in the percentage of optimally performing students at 1 year after enrolment. At 2 years after enrolment, more students from the AD cohorts had left and more non-AD students demonstrated optimal performance, but effect sizes (ESs) for these differences were small. Voluntary support at 4 months was attended by AD students more often than by non-AD students (68.9% versus 39.8%; χ2(1) = 43.95, p < 0.001, ES = 0.29). The AD students who attended the support meetings completed the Year 1 curriculum more often than those who did not (73.4% versus 52.5%; χ2(1) = 10.92, p < 0.001, ES = 0.20). Attending the obligatory support meeting at 7 months had a similar effect (70.5% versus 33.3%; χ2(1) = 13.60, p < 0.001, ES = 0.23).
Conclusions The presence of an AD policy did not lead to earlier dropout, higher completion rates or an improved study rate during the first 2 years at medical school. However, uptake of the support offered increased to almost 70%. Although support participants finished the Year 1 curriculum more often than non-participants, the current support system was not sufficient to improve overall study progress.