Background Recently there has been much scrutiny of the medical school admissions process by universities, the General Medical Council and the public. Improved objectivity, fairness and effectiveness of selection procedures are desirable. The ultimate outcome sought is the graduation of competent doctors who reflect the values of and are in tune with the communities they serve.
Methods Applicants to the Scottish medical schools sat a battery of psychometric tests to measure cognitive ability, personality traits and moral/ethical reasoning (Personal Qualities Assessment, PQA). Analysis determined the potential impact of the latter variables, and those of educational background and socioeconomic class (assessed by residential ‘deprivation category’), upon success in gaining a place to study medicine.
Results Cognitive ability did not vary significantly as a function of gender or educational background, although there was a trend for it to be lower in individuals from more deprived backgrounds. Women as a group were more empathic, with a greater communitarian orientation, than men. There was no significant difference between individuals attending independent and state-funded schools in respect of any of the qualities measured by the PQA. Applicants from deprived backgrounds and those attending state-funded schools would not be disadvantaged by an admissions process based on the PQA.
Conclusion The incorporation of an assessment tool such as the PQA may have positive implications for widening access and the objective selection of suitable medical students, resulting in the training of doctors who are more representative of the community at large. A longterm follow-up of the professional careers of those medical students who completed the PQA will be undertaken.