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Motivation crucial to student success


Medical students who are intrinsically motivated learn better and get higher marks. Female students are often more intrinsically motivated than male students. This is the conclusion arrived at by physician and researcher Rashmi Kusurkar following research at the Free University Medical Center (VUmc) Amsterdam and the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht. She will receive her doctorate on March 27.

Kusurkar carried out her research among approximately 1500 medical students at the VUmc and UMC Utrecht by questionnaire. In a number of sub-studies, she categorized students into groups on the basis of their learning strategies and motivation. Students may choose a superficial learning strategy aimed at remembering facts, or they can choose a strategy with more depth in order to gain as much understanding of the material as possible. The motivation of students may also be different. Those with intrinsic motivation want to pass their examinations and get their degree as they find the study of medicine interesting. Students with extrinsic motivation, however, may want to become doctors for other reasons: the status that the profession will give them, the salary that comes with the job or parental pressure.

Women score higher than men
Intrinsically motivated students who employ a more in-depth learning strategy have been shown to get higher marks. In addition, women got higher overall motivation scores and fewer of them had extrinsic motivation (in this study women scored 57 out of a possible 80 points on a motivation scale, whereas men scored 54). Female medical students also get higher marks than their male counterparts.

“Socially desirable answers”
The Dutch government no longer stipulates that medical students are chosen via a lottery system; universities may now select students themselves. However, in Kusurkar’s opinion motivation would not be a suitable component of a selection test. “If we select students on their motivation at the age of eighteen, then this puts men at a disadvantage. Additionally, existing motivation tests are unsuitable for selecting as the student will give the answers that he or she thinks the selection panel will want to hear. In discussion too, potential students may give socially desirable answers and the selection panel may consider their own preferences when making the decision.”

In addition, motivation can change says Kusurkar. “The study of medicine itself should be organized so that it brings out the right sort of motivation in students. Students should be given autonomy. They should have a say in the tempo and the sequence in which they are taught. In addition, they should receive feedback on their competencies and skills and, finally, they should be emotionally involved in their education. For example, coming into contact with patients early on in the course is much better than spending the early years studying theory only.

Rashmi Kusurkar will be awarded her doctorate from UMC Utrecht on March 27, 2012. Professor Olle ten Cate (UMC Utrecht) and Professor Gerda Croiset (VUmc) supervised her research.
02 April 2012