BACKGROUND: At Nottingham University more than 95% of entrants to the traditional 5-year medical course are school leavers. Since 2003 we have admitted graduate entrants (GEM) to a shortened (4-year) course to 'widen access to students from more disadvantaged backgrounds'. We have recently shown that the GEM course widens academic and socio-demographic diversity of the medical student population. This study explored whether GEM students also bring psychological diversity and whether this could be beneficial. METHODS: We studied: a) 217 and 96 applicants to the Nottingham 5- and 4-year courses respectively, applying in the 2002-3 UCAS cycle, and, b) 246 school leavers starting the 5-year course and 39 graduate entrants to the 4-year course in October 2003. The psychological profiles of the two groups of applicants and two groups of entrants were compared using their performance in the Goldberg 'Big 5' Personality test, the Personal Qualities Assessment (PQA; measuring interpersonal traits and interpersonal values), and the Lovibond and Lovibond measure of depression, anxiety and stress. For the comparison of the Entrants we excluded the 33 school leavers and seven graduates who took the tests as Applicants.Statistical analyses were undertaken using SPSS software (version 16.0). RESULTS: Graduate applicants compared to school leaver applicants were significantly more conscientious, more confident, more self controlled, more communitarian in moral orientation and less anxious. Only one of these differences was preserved in the entrants with graduates being less anxious. However, the graduate entrants were significantly less empathetic and conscientious than the school leavers. CONCLUSION: This study has shown that school leaver and graduate entrants to medical school differ in some psychological characteristics. However, if confirmed in other studies and if they were manifest in the extreme, not all the traits brought by graduates would be desirable for someone aiming for a medical career.
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