The Leaky Pipeline: Factors Associated With Early Decline in Interest in Premedical Studies Among Underrepresented Minority Undergraduate Students

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Abstract

Purpose

To determine the causes among underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups (URM) of a decline in interest during the undergraduate years in pursuing a career in medicine.

Method

From fall 2002 through 2007, the authors conducted a longitudinal study of 362 incoming Stanford freshmen (23% URM) who indicated on a freshman survey that they hoped to become physicians. Using a 10-point scale of interest, the authors measured the change in students' levels of interest in continuing premedical studies between the beginning of freshman year and the end of sophomore year. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 68 participants, approximately half of whom had experienced decreases in interest in continuing as premeds, and half of whom who had experienced increases in interest.

Results

URM students showed a larger decline in interest than did non-URM students; women showed a larger decline than did men, independent of race or ethnicity. The authors found no association between scholastic ability as measured by SAT scores and changes in level of interest. The principal reason given by students for their loss of interest in continuing as premeds was a negative experience in one or more chemistry courses. Students also identified problems in the university's undergraduate advising system as a contributor.

Conclusions

Largely because of negative experiences with chemistry classes, URM students and women show a disproportionate decline in interest in continuing in premedical studies, with the result that fewer apply to medical school.

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