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Med Educ. 2010 Jun;44(6):621-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03625.x.

Do prior knowledge, personality and visual perceptual ability predict student performance in microscopic pathology?

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1
Department of Teacher Education, Centre for Learning Research, University of Turku, Turku, Finland. laura.helle@utu.fi

Abstract

OBJECTIVES There has been long-standing controversy regarding aptitude testing and selection for medical education. Visual perception is considered particularly important for detecting signs of disease as part of diagnostic procedures in, for example, microscopic pathology, radiology and dermatology and as a component of perceptual motor skills in medical procedures such as surgery. In 1968 the Perceptual Ability Test (PAT) was introduced in dental education. The aim of the present pilot study was to explore possible predictors of performance in diagnostic classification based on microscopic observation in the context of an undergraduate pathology course. METHODS A pre- and post-test of diagnostic classification performance, test of visual perceptual skill (Test of Visual Perceptual Skills, 3rd edition [TVPS-3]) and a self-report instrument of personality (Big Five Personality Inventory) were administered. In addition, data on academic performance (performance in histology and cell biology, a compulsory course taken the previous year, in addition to performance on the microscopy examination and final examination) were collected. RESULTS The results indicated that one personality factor (Conscientiousness) and one element of visual perceptual ability (spatial relationship awareness) predicted performance on the pre-test. The only factor to predict performance on the post-test was performance on the pre-test. Similarly, the microscopy examination score was predicted by the pre-test score, in addition to the histology and cell biology grade. The course examination score was predicted by two personality factors (Conscientiousness and lack of Openness) and the histology and cell biology grade. CONCLUSIONS Visual spatial ability may be related to performance in the initial phase of training in microscopic pathology. However, from a practical point of view, medical students are able to learn basic microscopic pathology using worked-out examples, independently of measures of personality or visual perceptual ability. This finding should reassure students about their abilities to improve with training independently of their scores on tests on basic abilities and personality.

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