Background: No published reports of studies have provided aggregate data on visiting medical student (VMS) programs at allopathic medical schools.
Methods: During 2006, a paper survey was mailed to all 129 allopathic medical schools in the United States and Puerto Rico using a list obtained from the Association of American Medical Colleges. Contents of the survey items were based on existing literature and expert opinion and addressed various topics related to VMS programs, including organizational aspects, program objectives, and practical issues. Responses to the survey items were yes-or-no, multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and free-text responses. Data related to the survey responses were summarized using descriptive statistics.
Results: Representatives of 76 schools (59%) responded to the survey. Of these, 73 (96%) reported their schools had VMS programs. The most common reason for having a VMS program was "recruitment for residency programs" (90%). "Desire to do a residency at our institution" was ranked as the leading reason visiting medical students choose to do electives or clerkships. In descending order, the most popular rotations were in internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, emergency medicine, and pediatrics. All VMS programs allowed fourth-year medical students, and approximately half (58%) allowed international medical students. The most common eligibility requirements were documentation of immunizations (92%), previous clinical experience (85%), and successful completion of United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 (51%). Of the programs that required clinical experience, 82% required 33 weeks or more. Most institutions (96%) gave priority for electives and clerkships to their own students over visiting students, and a majority (78%) reported that visiting students were evaluated no differently than their own students. During academic year 2006-2007, the number of new resident physicians who were former visiting medical students ranged widely among the responding institutions (range, 0-76).
Conclusions: Medical schools' leading reason for having VMS programs is recruitment into residency programs and the most commonly cited reason students participate in these programs is to secure residency positions. However, further research is needed regarding factors that determine the effectiveness of VMS programs in residency program recruitment and the development of more universal standards for VMS eligibility requirements and assessment.