#KEYLIMEPODCAST 359: Why Do Good Jocks make Good Docs?

Medical schools carefully select applicants who they foresee excelling in a demanding curriculum and as physicians – but what exactly are these predictors of success? While many past studies have assessed qualitative data for predicting success, rarely have they assessed for qualitative factors. The study Linda shares with her co-hosts this week looked closer at these qualitative factors, specifically perspectives on why medical students with collegiate athletic experience succeed in medical school.

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Strowd L et al Student Faculty and Coach perspectives on why athletes excel in med school. Teaching and Learning in Medicine. 2022, 34(1):43-59


Linda Snell (@LindaSMedEd)_


Who is selected for medical school is thought important – if potential students come in with the ‘right’ characteristics/attitudes/skills they may excel at school and in practice. The prediction game is widespread in admissions: linking an incoming characteristic with future performance. We know that academic performance on pre-med tests predicts performance on basic science exams, but there are few predictors of clinical performance – the further away from entry the looser the link. Students’ success is affected by individual learner, teacher, and systems factors. I  ndividual, noncognitive  factors (NCFs) include personality traits, EI, empathy, motivation, self-efficacy, physical activity, amongst others. NCFs become more important predictors in the clinical years.

These authors did a study showing that medical students with at least one year of varsity level college

athletics participation outperformed their peers on USMLE and NBME exams and clinical clerkships. In this study they ask why.


The authors ‘ sought to explore medical student, medical school faculty, and college coach perspectives about factors explaining why medical students with collegiate athletic experience succeed in medical school.’

Key Points on the Methods

Grounded theory approach

Participants: Medical students (n=15) with at least one year of college varsity (intercollegiate) level athletic experience actively enrolled in med school; faculty physicians (n=5) with experience working as team doctors with college-level athletes and extensive experience working with medical students and residents; college coaches (n=3) all from one universitywith experience working with student athletes who later entered med school.

Data collection:  semi structured interviews exploring experiences as an athlete and the links with med school experience

Analysis: transcripts coded inductively, constant comparison, themes emerged

Reflexivity statement: ‘not college athletes’

Key Outcomes

6 Themes outlined nicely with exemplar quotes in Table 2:
1. goal setting, goal pursuit, and performance appraisal (strong work ethic, perseverance, and other goal-directed behaviors and attributes);
2. development of time management, planning, and organizational skills, (“like having a part-time job”);
3. development of team values and teamwork skills, whether individual or team sport;
4. development of communication and interpersonal skills, useful in patient interactions;
5. acceptance of, coping strategies for, and resilient response to stress and adversity;
6. prioritization of personal wellness, practice healthy living.
Absent – ability to be coached; deliberate practice

Experiences in college may impact development of life skills, the strategies can then translate to support success in future professional or educational domains.
The authors discuss a number of theoretical constructs to support their findings:
• life skills transfer
• identity formation
• emotional intelligence
• resilience

Implications – some of these attributes are learnable, which may help all students; peer mentoring is one way; teachers can use principles of deliberate practice; students can be placed in tam contexts

Issues: not unique – students with other activities (the arts, part time jobs) may have same attributes; single institution; didn’t measure perf outcomes in this group, or compare to non-athlete peers; no clear causal relationship. Is this true/true/unrelated?

 Key Conclusions

The authors conclude ‘medical schools should allocate resources to support institutional efforts that nurture these skills and attributes in all medical students, to maximize each individual’s success.’

Spare Keys – Other take home points for Clinician Educators

Nice lay-out of qual data
When to bring in theory?

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