UCC Study Questions Validity of HPAT-Ireland as Selection Tool

5 Sep 2017

A study of 290 medical students from University College Cork (UCC) carried out by UCC researchers highlights the lack of connection between the students’ performance in the Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT-Ireland) and their self-reported empathy levels.

Since 2009, the Irish medical school application process ranks applicants on the basis of their points achieved at leaving certificate as well as performance in the Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT-Ireland), which shares a similar structure to the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT), used in Australia and New Zealand.   HPAT-Ireland was introduced with the intention of broadening the access to medical school, increased emphasis on non-academic attributes and bringing the Irish medical schools’ curriculum policy closer to international norms. 

The HPAT-Ireland was introduced in 2009 as an admissions test to Irish medical schools, designed to assess several skill domains in prospective medical students including interpersonal skills such as empathy.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal Open (BMJO) was conducted at University College Cork.  The results of this study, which took place during the academic year 2014/2015, found no clear link between scores on the selection test (HPAT-Ireland) and scores on a psychometric measure of medical students’ empathy levels, which questions the validity of the HPAT-Ireland test as a selection tool. The study was conducted by Dr Donnchadh O'Sullivan, Dr Joseph Moran, Dr Paul Corcoran, Dr Siun O'Flynn, Dr Colm O'Tuathaigh and Dr Aoife O'Sullivan.

Dr Donnchadh O’Sullivan said “Predictive validity of any selection test is its ability to predict subsequent performance in medical schools.  Previous research has shown that HPAT scores were a poor predictor of clinical or communication skills performance.  In the current study, we sought to determine whether performance in any of the HPAT sections, but perhaps most specifically the interpersonal understanding section, would correlate with self-reported empathy levels in undergraduate medical students.”

Empathy is regarded as one of the most important competencies required by health professionals. Physician empathy is linked with improved patient comprehension, more accurate diagnosis, increased treatment adherence, decreased emotional distress and improved quality of life among patients.

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