Study: No, Medical School Grading Is Not Fair

This article is more than 9 years old.
(Samir, via Wikimedia Commons)
(Samir, via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, actually the study found that the grading standards vary widely among medical schools, but if you're competing against other students with inflated grades, that's not fair, right?

These findings immediately reminded me of a prominent local doctor who recently told me, sotto voce, that people in the know say students who come from a certain maximally prestigious medical school actually make lousy residents.

If nothing else, this study adds an additional "buyer beware" warning to hospitals choosing among med students with stellar grades. The press release from Brigham and Women's Hospital:

Boston – A first-of-its-kind review of grading systems at United States medical schools has led a team of researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital to detect a dramatic variation in grading practices.  The findings depict an imprecise system that lacks transparency and may contribute to grade inflation.  The findings were published online this week in the journal, Academic Medicine.

The researchers, led by Erik K. Alexander, MD, the director of medical student education at BWH, analyzed final course grades, known as clerkship evaluation reports, from 119 of 123 medical schools accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“Our research shows that there are no standardized requirements for evaluation and grading at accredited medical schools across the United States.  This has led to a confusing national picture of what individual grades really mean and how physicians in training should be judged when applying for residency training or their medical license,” Alexander said.

Researchers found eight different types of grading systems in place at schools across the United States that use 27 unique sets of descriptive grading terminology.  For example, grading terms such as “honors”, “satisfactory” and “good” have different meanings at different institutions.

Additionally, the researchers found that 97 percent of all students were awarded one of the top three grades at their institution, regardless of the grading system or how many grading choices were available to the faculty.  This suggests that when the number of grading choices is increased, grade inflation likely results.

“I hope that this study will prompt medical schools to take action and adopt a national standard,” said Alexander.  “A consistent, transparent and reliable grading system is needed to improve the student evaluation process.  This will lead to a better assessment of each student’s individual performance and benefit all involved.”

Med students, current and recent, does this ring true?

This program aired on June 29, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.




Listen Live