Purpose: To assess the relationships of cognitive and noncognitive performance predictors to medical student preclinical and clinical performance indicators across medical school years 1 to 3 and to evaluate the association of psychological health/wellness factors with performance.
Method: In 2010, the authors conducted a cross-sectional, correlational, retrospective study of all 175 students at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine who had just completed their third (first clinical) year. Students were asked to complete assessments of personality, stress, anxiety, depression, social support, and community cohesion. Performance measures included total Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score, preclinical academic grades, National Board of Medical Examiners subject exam scores, United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1 score, clinical evaluations, and Humanism in Medicine Honor Society nominations.
Results: A total of 152 students (87%) participated. MCAT scores predicted cognitive performance indicators (academic tests), whereas personality variables (conscientiousness, extraversion, empathy) predicted noncognitive indicators (clinical evaluations, humanism nominations). Conscientiousness predicted all clinical skills, extraversion predicted clinical skills reflecting interpersonal behavior, and empathy predicted motivation. Health/wellness variables had limited associations with performance. In multivariate analyses that included control for shelf exam scores, conscientiousness predicted clinical evaluations, and extraversion and empathy predicted humanism nominations.
Conclusions: This study identified two sets of skills (cognitive, noncognitive) used during medical school, with minimal overlap across the types of performance (e.g., exam performance versus clinical interpersonal skills) they predict. Medical school admission and evaluation efforts may need to be modified to reflect the importance of personality and other noncognitive factors.