Factors associated with dropout in medical education: a literature review

Med Educ. 2011 May;45(5):440-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03898.x. Epub 2011 Mar 22.


Context: Medical school dropout may have negative consequences for society, patients, the profession, schools and dropouts. To our knowledge, the literature dealing with dropout from medical school has never been systematically and critically appraised.

Objectives: This review aimed to systematically and critically review studies dealing with factors found to be associated with dropping out of medical school.

Methods: A systematic critical literature review of the international peer-reviewed research literature on medical education was performed. A primary search was conducted and subsequently supplemented with ancestry and descendancy searches. The population of interest was medical students and the outcome was dropout. Abstract/title screening and quality assessment were performed by two independent researchers. Studies were assessed on six domains of quality: study participation; study attrition; predictor measurement; measurement of and accounting for confounders; outcome measurement, and analysis. Only studies that accounted for confounding were included in the final analysis.

Results: Of 625 studies found, 48 were quality-assessed and 13 of these were eventually included based on their fulfilment of our quality-related criteria. A range of entry qualifications seemed to be associated with greater chances of a student dropping out (odds ratio [OR] = 1.65-4.00). Struggling academically in medical school may be strongly associated with dropout. By contrast, no specific pattern of demographic variables was particularly important in relation to dropout. The effects of socio-economic, psychological and educational variables on dropout were not well investigated.

Conclusions: More research into causal models and theory testing, which considers the effects of education, organisation and institution, is necessary if we are to learn more about how we can actively prevent medical student withdrawal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schools, Medical
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Student Dropouts / psychology
  • Student Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Students, Medical / psychology
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult