Open Access Open Badges Research article

What should we be selecting for? A systematic approach for determining which personal characteristics to assess for during admissions

Peter Conlon1, Kent Hecker23* and Susan Sabatini1

Author affiliations

1 Dean’s Office, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

2 Department of Veterinary Clinical and Diagnostic Science, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Community Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Medical Education Research Unit, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

3 G380 Health Sciences Centre, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB, T2N 4N1, Canada

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:105  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-105

Published: 5 November 2012



Admission committees are responsible for creating fair, defensible, reliable, and valid processes that assess those attributes considered important for professional success. There is evidence for the continuing use of academic ability as a selection criterion for health professional schools; however, there is little evidence for the reliability and validity of measures currently in place to assess personal characteristics. The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) initiated a review of its admissions criteria in order to implement an evidence-based method to determine which characteristics veterinary stakeholders consider important to assess for admission.


Eleven characteristics were identified by the OVC Admissions Committee and a survey was sent to all licensed veterinarians in Ontario (n=4,068), OVC students (n=450), and OVC faculty, interns and residents (n=192). A paired comparison method was used to identify the relative rank order of the characteristics, and multivariate analysis of variance with post hoc analyses was used to determine between group differences in the returned survey data.


Surveys were returned from 1,312 participants (27.86% response rate; female 59.70%). The relative rank of the characteristics was reasonably consistent among participant groups, with ethical behaviour, sound judgment, communication, and critical and creative thinking being ranked as the top four. However, the importance of certain characteristics like communication and empathy were perceived differently by groups. For instance, females scored communication (F(1, 1289) = 20.24, p < .001, d = .26) and empathy (F(1, 1289) = 55.41, p < .001, d = 0.42) significantly higher than males, while males scored knowledge of profession (F(1, 1289) = 12.81, p < .001, d = 0.20), leadership (F(1, 1289) = 10.28, p = .001, d = 0.18), and sound judgment (F(1, 1289) = 13.56, p < .001, d = 0.21) significantly higher than females.


The data from the paired comparison method provide convergent evidence for the characteristics participant groups identify as most important in determining who should be admitted to a veterinary program. The between group analyses provides important information regarding characteristics most important to various subgroups; this has implications for what characteristics are selected for at admission as well as on who is selecting for them.

Personal characteristics; Admissions; Selection criteria; Survey