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Open Access Research article

Development of a 'toolkit' to identify medical students at risk of failure to thrive on the course: an exploratory retrospective case study

Janet Yates

Author Affiliations

Medical Education Unit, B94 Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK

BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:95  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-95

Published: 18 November 2011

Abstract

Background

An earlier study at Nottingham suggested that 10-15% of the medical student intake was likely to fail completely or have substantial problems on the course. This is a problem for the students, the Faculty, and society as a whole. If struggling students could be identified early in the course and additional pastoral resources offered, some of this wastage might be avoided. An exploratory case study was conducted to determine whether there were common indicators in the early years, over and above academic failure, that might aid the identification of students potentially at risk.

Methods

The study group was drawn from five successive cohorts. Students who had experienced difficulties were identified in any of four ways: from Minutes of the Academic Progress Committee; by scanning examination lists at key stages (end of the first two years, and finals at the end of the clinical course); from lists of students flagged to the Postgraduate Deanery as in need of extra monitoring or support; and from progress files of those who had left the course prematurely. Relevant data were extracted from each student's course progress file into a customised database.

Results

1188 students were admitted over the five years. 162 (14%) were identified for the study, 75 of whom had failed to complete the course by October 2010. In the 87 who did graduate, a combination of markers in Years 1 and 2 identified over half of those who would subsequently have the most severe problems throughout the course. This 'toolkit' comprised failure of 3 or more examinations per year, an overall average of <50%, health or social difficulties, failure to complete Hepatitis B vaccination on time, and remarks noted about poor attitude or behaviour.

Conclusions

A simple toolkit of academic and non-academic markers could be used routinely to help identify potential strugglers at an early stage, enabling additional support and guidance to be given to these students.