The Baseline Characteristics of Medical Students Pursuing Traditional Medical or Humanities Research

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Introduction: Many medical colleges have recently created Scholarly Inquiry (SI) programs where students complete advisor-guided research projects in a discipline of their choice. Despite the increased prevalence of SI programs, their impact has been understudied. This study uses both qualitative and quantitative measures to contrast the baseline character traits, backgrounds, and motivations of new students who are participating in either the Clinical/Translational Research (CTR) or the Humanities (HUM) tracks at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College.

Methods: 9 HUM and 34 CTR first-year medical students completed a survey shortly after their track orientations containing character trait metrics and background questions. Three years of HUM SI track selection essays were also thematically analyzed to investigate why students choose to research humanities.

Results: The baseline survey results found that there were no significant differences between the groups’ scores for creativity, tolerance for ambiguity, burnout, critical thinking, and humanities exposure. A motivation measure demonstrated that HUM students had higher intrinsic motivation scores (p=0.0006) while CTR students had higher extrinsic motivation scores (p=0.04) relating to their track selection choices. The thematic analysis found that HUM students chose their track because they perceived that the humanities would bring balance to their education, help them to contextualize patients, and foster humanistic skills (empathy, creativity, observational skills, self-care, etc.).

Discussion: Due to the lack of statistical significance, the data suggests that both groups have similar traits except for their average motivations. These results were unexpected as the HUM students were predicted to have higher character trait scores. The results may be explained by the medical school admission process picking students who demonstrate similar traits to the ones measured in this study. Longitudinal survey data will be needed to determine if these two groups’ traits are constant overtime or if studying the humanities is protective of the measured traits.



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