Lessons learned from a study-group pilot program for medical students perceived to be 'at risk'.
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At the University of New Mexico School of Medicine (UNM-SOM) we have noticed that some first year medical students have difficulty accurately assessing their academic skills and are often afraid to seek help. This leads to marginal performance and sometimes even failure. Therefore, we developed a preemptive intervention using peer-led study groups based on the personalized System of Instruction (PSI).The goal of this pilot study was to evaluate this approach for assisting students, interms of student success, and cast benefit.Thirteen first-year medical students considered to be 'at risk' of academic difficulty took part in a six-month pilot intervention. They participated in structured study groups that were facilitated by upper-level medical students. The groups met twice weekly for up to two hours each time. The at-risk students took short multiple-choice quizzes and discussed major concepts. If students did not achieve 80% or better on the quizzes, they were required to take a second quiz to demonstrate mastery. Summative exam scores from four groups of students were compared: those with Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores <25, who received the study group intervention; their classmates with MCAT scores >25 who did not receive the intervention; and two matched groups from the previous year, none of whom had access to the structured study groups.No significant differences in exam scores were seen between the group who received the intervention and the matched group who did not.Despite this result, we learned several useful lessons about study groups and interactions between first-year and upper-level medical students: (1) Students perceived participation in the study groups as a good learning strategy, but preferred participation not be mandated. It may be preferable to train and encourage students to run their own study groups. (2) Both students and proctors acknowledged interpersonal benefits from the program but, as these benefits can be achieved by other means, an expensive proctor-based program is not, we believe, the best use of academic support resources. (3) Focus in the study groups was on content for the quizzes, but more attention to how-to-learn strategies may have had greater impact.