Boys outperform girls for medical school

Proportion of male entrants to medical schools has increased again, study shows

Analysis showed the male applicants for medical school did slightly better in the Leaving Cert than female applicants in each of the years under consideration, and also outperformed them in the HPAT test. Photograph:  Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Analysis showed the male applicants for medical school did slightly better in the Leaving Cert than female applicants in each of the years under consideration, and also outperformed them in the HPAT test. Photograph: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

Wed, Sep 18, 2013, 01:00


Boys are outperforming girls academically in the quest for medical school places even though girls generally do better in the Leaving Certificate, according to a new study.

Male applicants for medical school outperform females in both the Leaving Cert and the HPAT exam which was introduced as an additional test for entry to medical school in 2009, the research by UCC scientists shows.

The study, published in the Irish Medical Journal, finds no evidence of a gender bias linked to the Health Professionals Admissions Test (HPAT), which has been criticised in some quarters for disadvantaging female candidates.

Medicine, once a male-dominated profession, has become increasingly feminised in recent years, with women now comprising a majority of medical students. However, since the introduction of HPAT, a multiple-choice test of reasoning and problem-solving skills, the proportion of male entrants to medical schools has increased again. The test counts for about one-third of the points for entry, with the Leaving Cert counting for the rest.


Gender differences
The UCC team looked at the performance of all applicants for medicine in the years 2009-2011 according to gender. Women accounted for the majority of applications, and the majority of eligible applications once the matriculation requirement and a requirement for a minimum of 480 Leaving Cert points were fulfilled.

The analysis showed the male applicants for medical school did slightly better in the Leaving Cert than female applicants in each of the years under consideration, and also outperformed them in the HPAT test.


Surprise result
“This finding surprised us as it is known that females generally outperform males in such tests and previous female dominance in medical school was secondary to superior Leaving Certificate performance,” said Dr Siun O’Flynn, head of medical education at UCC’s school of medicine.

“We wonder whether external factors such as the prevailing economic climate may have influenced applicant behaviour.

“It is known that male applications to medicine tend to increase in times of economic uncertainty. Perhaps the apparent security offered by a career in medicine has made such an option more attractive to high academic performing males in Ireland. ”

According to Dr O’Flynn, the perception that HPAT has actively disadvantaged women is not borne out in any conclusive fashion by the evidence.

However, the study points out that equity of access is not simply a question of gender. “There is concern regarding the access of minority groups and perhaps socio-economically disadvantaged candidates to a place in medical school when traditional tests are used.”

The study found “subtle” gender patterns within the HPAT exam, with males consistently outperforming females in the sections on logical reasoning, problem-solving and non-verbal reasoning, while females consistently outperform males in the section on interpersonal understanding. This was most evident in 2009 but less so in later years.