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Open Access Research article

Potential influence of selection criteria on the demographic composition of students in an Australian medical school

Ian B Puddey1*, Annette Mercer1, Sandra E Carr1 and William Louden2

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

2 Vice-Chancellery, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:97  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-97

Published: 23 November 2011

Abstract

Background

Prior to 1999 students entering our MBBS course were selected on academic performance alone. We have now evaluated the impact on the demographics of subsequent cohorts of our standard entry students (those entering directly from high school) of the addition to the selection process of an aptitude test (UMAT), a highly structured interview and a rural incentive program.

Methods

Students entering from 1985 to 1998, selected on academic performance alone (N = 1402), were compared to those from 1999 to 2011, selected on the basis of a combination of academic performance, interview score, and UMAT score together with the progressive introduction of a rural special entry pathway (N = 1437).

Results

Males decreased from 57% to 45% of the cohort, students of NE or SE Asian origin decreased from 30% to 13%, students born in Oceania increased from 52% to 69%, students of rural origin from 5% to 21% and those from independent high schools from 56% to 66%. The proportion of students from high schools with relative socio-educational disadvantage remained unchanged at approximately 10%. The changes reflect in part increasing numbers of female and independent high school applicants and the increasing rural quota. However, they were also associated with higher interview scores in females vs males and lower interview scores in those of NE and SE Asian origin compared to those born in Oceania or the UK. Total UMAT scores were unrelated to gender or region of origin.

Conclusions

The revised selection processes had no impact on student representation from schools with relative socio-educational disadvantage. However, the introduction of special entry quotas for students of rural origin and a structured interview, but not an aptitude test, were associated with a change in gender balance and ethnicity of students in an Australian undergraduate MBBS course.