Personality Key for Medical School Students, Study Finds


Personality tests could help predict success for medical school applicants, according to a study co-authored by a University of Guelph professor.

The study found that personality is a better indicator of success in clinical rotations than either grades or the MCAT, the standard medical school entrance exam.

Scoring high in key personality traits is more important to doing well in clinical rotations than grades, a study co-authored by a U of G professor found

With Ontario medical schools having accepted students and currently awaiting final academic transcripts, the study is relevant in considering which students are selected, said psychology professor and study co-author Deborah Powell.

What was surprising to her was that those who got higher scores on key personality traits also did well in classes.

“We wanted to find out if there is a better way to pick medical school applicants, to see who will be successful in all areas of medicine,” said Powell.

For the four-year-long study, the researchers picked specific personality traits that experts thought would be important to a medical doctor: conscientiousness (being organized), achievement-focused (setting difficult goals), calmness, confidence, responsibility (having a sense of duty) and tolerance (willing to accept people with different beliefs or customs).

The researchers gave a personality test to medical school students and then analyzed how they did in classes and with patients.

Prof. Deborah Powell

“What we found is that in many cases, these personality traits were a key indicator of success as a doctor – dealing with people is a critical part of patient health and wellness,” said Powell.

“What this tells us is that it may be beneficial to medical schools to utilize personality tests when selecting prospective applicants. Many schools do conduct in-person interviews, but an hour-long interview can be limited in scope. A personality test is a better use of time and resources.”

The study focuses on medical school students but may apply to other careers.

“For people working in fields where they often deal with people, personality will play a key role in career success,” said Powell.

“Knowing your personality can help determine if a career is right for you. However, there also ways to strengthen yourself in areas you recognize you may be weak. For example, maybe try putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, such as talking to strangers more. You can develop skills by trying new things.”