The process of attrition in pre-medical studies: A large-scale analysis across 102 schools

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The important but difficult choice of vocational trajectory often takes place in college, beginning with majoring in a subject and taking relevant coursework. Of all possible disciplines, pre-medical studies are often not a formally defined major but pursued by a substantial proportion of the college population. Understanding students' experiences with pre-med coursework is valuable and understudied, as most research on medical education focuses on the later medical school and residency. We examined the pattern and predictors of attrition at various milestones along the pre-med coursework track during college. Using a College Board dataset, we analyzed a sample of 15,442 students spanning 102 institutions who began their post-secondary education in years between 2006 and 2009. We examined whether students fulfilled the required coursework to remain eligible for medical schools at several milestones: 1) one semester of general chemistry, biology, physics, 2) two semesters of general chemistry, biology, physics, 3) one semester of organic chemistry, and 4) either the second semester of organic chemistry or one semester of biochemistry, and predictors of persistence at each milestone. Only 16.5% of students who intended to major in pre-med graduate college with the required coursework for medical schools. Attrition rates are highest initially but drop as students take more advanced courses. Predictors of persistence include academic preparedness before college (e.g., SAT scores, high school GPA) and college performance (e.g., grades in pre-med courses). Students who perform better academically both in high school and in college courses are more likely to remain eligible for medical school.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0243546
JournalPloS one
Issue number12 December
StatePublished - Dec 2020

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© 2020 Zhang et al.


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