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Dean Parmelee, Irina Overman


The demographics of United States medical schools are changing to include an increasing number of older students, men and women who have switched careers into medicine, those with post-graduate degrees before starting medical school, and other diverse backgrounds. These “non-traditional” students today are still a minority (an annual questionnaire sent out to matriculating medical students by the Association of American Medical Colleges last year showed as many as 90% of students knew they wanted to study medicine by the end of undergraduate1) but make up a growing slice of the demographics of current U.S. medical students. Much research has been done on defining the demographics of this new population of medical students as well as the unique challenges they face. Recruitment efforts have been made to attract students from non-medical backgrounds to include military experience2, advanced degrees3, those from ethnic and social minorities4, older students with families5, and those making a switch from non-medical careers6.

Additionally, many studies have sought to measure the success of this population of student physicians by using different metrices of success, from student performance on standardized examinations3,6,7, to recruitment of students matriculating into medical school2,4.

In comparing the success of non-traditional students to traditional students, the results in the literature are mixed. Ellis8 found non-traditional students in higher education persist and have better outcomes than there traditional colleagues in university courses, but suffer from more attrition in degree programs. Agan and Casarez5 found non-traditional students flourished in education degrees and out-performed their traditional colleagues. And Arvidson et al6 found mixed results with non-traditional students. Her research found non-traditional students who for personal reasons take an extended curriculum program to complete their preclinical curriculum had lower Step scores and had to repeat more clinical rotations. This same population however, reported comparable career satisfaction later on in the specialty to which they matched and throughout their medical careers, indicating long-term success6.

This research attempts to assess how well non-traditional medical students perform in medical school compared to those students who took the traditional path into their medical education. We expect to find differences in academic success and in clinical skills, such as the results found by other researchers in this field3,6,7. For the purposes of this research project, success is defined as relative scores and grades between these populations.