Nonminority medical students more satisfied than minority students, study finds

November 09, 2006

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Minorities account for 30 percent of the U.S. population, but only 8 percent of the physician workforce, and experience less personal satisfaction during medical school than nonminority students, finds a Mayo Clinic study published in the November issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

More than 1,000 students from three Minnesota medical schools were surveyed and minority students were found to have a lower sense of personal accomplishment and quality of life than their nonminority peers. They were more likely than nonminority students to have experienced a personal illness in the past year and to have children, both stressors that could impact their quality of life and sense of accomplishment.

The study's authors say improving well-being among minority medical students is key to promoting diversification in the physician work force. Further study is warranted to assess how to aid minority students during their education to prevent attrition, says Liselotte Dyrbye, M.D., the study's lead author.

"Further research exploring medical school experience of minority students is needed to help understand the barriers to development of a racially and ethnically diverse physician workforce," says Dr. Dyrbye. "Understanding these barriers will hopefully result in support programs and other interventions that will improve both the quality of life of physicians in training and maximize their learning."

Stress among medical students was the subject of a second article in November's Mayo Clinic Proceedings. This study concluded that a pass fail grading method produces less stress among medical school students than the traditional A-F grading method, without affecting scores on standardized exams.

As a component of the study, the grading system for Mayo Medical School students was changed to pass-fail in 2006. Study authors note that these students experienced less stress and had greater group cohesion than students who received the equivalent of A-F grades in 2005.

Academic performance as measured by standardized exams wasn't affected by the alteration in grading technique. The authors suggest that the pass-fail grading system should be used more frequently with medical students.

"The quality of future health care is dependent upon the creation of psychologically healthy physicians who work cooperatively in multidisciplinary teams," says Daniel Rohe, Ph.D., lead author of the second study. "Pass-fail grading enhances learning the critical social skills required to function effectively in multidisciplinary health teams."

Thomas Habermann, M.D., associate dean for Mayo Graduate School of Medical Education, and Terrence Cascino, M.D., director for education at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, write in an accompanying Mayo Clinic Proceedings editorial that medical education is undergoing a revolution and education research, such as the articles published in this month's issue, is essential in determining the outcome of changes.

Drs. Habermann and Cascino say research about how physicians are educated "must continue in the future if we are to further improve 21st century medical education."
Other authors of the study on minority medical students are Matthew Thomas, M.D., Mashele Huschka, Paul Novotny, Jeff Sloan, Ph.D., and Tait Shanafelt, M.D., all of Mayo Clinic; and Karen Lawson, M.D., of the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing.

Other authors of the study on pass-fail grading are Patricia Barrier, M.D., Matthew Clark, Ph.D., David Cook, M.D., Kristin Vickers Douglas, Ph.D., and Paul Decker, all of Mayo Clinic.

A peer-review journal, Mayo Clinic Proceedings publishes original articles and reviews dealing with clinical and laboratory medicine, clinical research, basic science research and clinical epidemiology. Mayo Clinic Proceedings is published monthly by Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research as part of its commitment to the medical education of physicians. The journal has been published for more than 80 years and has a circulation of 130,000 nationally and internationally. Articles are available online at

To obtain the latest news releases from Mayo Clinic, go to ( is available as a resource for your health stories.

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