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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Do students learn to be more conscientious at medical school?

Andrew T Chaytor*, Jacqueline Spence, Ann Armstrong and John C McLachlan

Author Affiliations

School of Medicine and Health, Durham University, Queens Campus, Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees, UK

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BMC Medical Education 2012, 12:54  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-12-54

Published: 11 July 2012

Abstract

Background

Professionalism in medical students is not only difficult to define but difficult to teach and measure. As negative behaviour in medical students is associated with post-graduate disciplinary action it would be useful to have a model whereby unprofessional behaviour at the undergraduate level can easily be identified to permit appropriate intervention. We have previously developed a scalar measure of conscientiousness, the Conscientiousness Index (CI), which positively correlates to estimates of professional behaviour in undergraduate medical students. By comparing CI points awarded in year 1 and year 2 of study we were able to use the CI model to determine whether teaching and clinical exposure had any effect on students’ conscientiousness.

Methods

CI points were collected by administrative staff from 3 successive cohorts of students in years 1 and 2 of study. Points were awarded to students for activities such as submission of immunisation status and criminal record checks, submission of summative assignments by a specified date and attendance at compulsory teaching sessions. CI points were then converted to a percentage of maximal possible scores (CI %) to permit direct comparison between years 1 and 2 of study.

Results

CI % scores were generally high with each year of study for each cohort showing negatively skewed normal distributions with peaks > 89%. There was a high degree of correlation of CI % scores between year 1 and year 2 of study for each cohort alone and when cohort data was combined. When the change in CI % from year 1 to year 2 for all students was compared there was no significant difference in conscientiousness observed.

Conclusions

We have provided evidence that use of a CI model in undergraduate medical students provides a reliable measure of conscientiousness that is easy to implement. Importantly this study shows that measurement of conscientiousness by the CI model in medical students does not change between years 1 and 2 study suggesting that it is a stable characteristic and not modified by teaching and clinical exposure.