Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

How to do itSelect medical students

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 24 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1149
  1. David Powis, assistant dean, undergraduate education
  1. Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Newcastle, New South Wales 2308, Australia

    Editorial by Abbasi and Paper p 1111

    The analysis on p 1111 by McManus of some of the factors affecting whether a candidate is offered a place at medical school in the United Kingdom1 shows clearly that selectors haven't yet got it right.

    What follows is a brief guide that might help medical schools and doctors to determine what they want from a selection procedure—that is, what knowledge, skills, and attributes need to be sought in potential medical students, and why. This determination requires data, specifically, on the progress rates of medical students and the reasons for failure or premature withdrawal. With such knowledge the guide may be used to show how admissions committees should devise and operate an appropriately objective student selection procedure.

    Summary points

    • The selection of medical students is often an arbitrary process, with the criteria for selection often being undefined

    • The selection procedure should be an objective exercise based on defensible criteria with transparency of process and freedom from bias

    • This article describes the steps entailed in establishing a suitable procedure and how to operate it

    • The procedure is based on collecting pertinent data in academic, cognitive, and non-cognitive domains by the most appropriate methods

    • A key recommendation is to dissociate the selection event from the interview

    • The interview should be used only to collect data; selection is performed later by administrative staff, who enter the data gathered by all means into a predetermined algorithm


    Medical school admissions procedures are often not selection procedures but an administrative exercise to limit the number of entrants to the number of places available on the course by means of a movable marks threshold. The assumption is that the greater the number of applicants for places in the medical school the higher the marks threshold needs to be set to limit …

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