A framework for analysis of sentinel events in medical student education

Acad Med. 2013 Nov;88(11):1680-4. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182a82266.


Problem: Although previous studies have addressed student factors contributing to dismissal or withdrawal from medical school for academic reasons, little information is available regarding institutional factors that may hinder student progress.

Approach: The authors describe the development and application of a framework for sentinel event (SE) root cause analysis to evaluate cases in which students are dismissed or withdraw because of failure to progress in the medical school curriculum. The SE in medical student education (MSE) framework was piloted at the Ohio State University College of Medicine (OSUCOM) during 2010-2012. Faculty presented cases using the framework during academic oversight committee discussions.

Outcomes: Nine SEs in MSE were presented using the framework. Major institution-level findings included the need for improved communication, documentation of cognitive and noncognitive (e.g., mental health) issues, clarification of requirements for remediation and fitness for duty, and additional psychological services. Challenges related to alternative and combined programs were identified as well. The OSUCOM undertook system changes based on the action plans developed through the discussions of these SEs.

Next steps: An SE analysis process appears to be a useful method for making system changes in response to institutional issues identified in evaluation of cases in which students fail to progress in the medical school curriculum. The authors plan to continue to refine the SE in MSE framework and analysis process. Next steps include assessing whether analysis using this framework yields improved student outcomes with universal applications for other institutions.

MeSH terms

  • Documentation
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Humans
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Students, Medical*