Exploring the literacy practices of first year medical students as they negotiate the demands of medical school

Joan Maria Rushton, University of Pennsylvania


This qualitative study explores and describes the literacy practices that first year medical students employ to meet the academic expectation of the first semester course directors. Despite the fact that medical students have been highly academically successful in undergraduate and even graduate school, some first year medical students experience academic difficulty. The few studies that have investigated academic difficulty in medical students have focused on traditional quantitative predictors such as grade point average and Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores. In contrast, this study is guided by qualitative research on academic literacies which emphasizes the importance of exploring the understandings of both the students' and academic instructors' literacy practices as a means to explore academic difficulty. Consequently, the primary method of data collection in this study is audio taped interviews with first year medical students and course directors. The interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed to find emerging patterns and themes. Secondary sources of data include participant observations, course materials, historical and demographic documents, and field notes. Findings from this study reveal a gap between the course directors' academic expectation and students' interpretations of what literacy practices are involved in studying for the first semester courses in medical school. In applying the theory of academic literacies, this study examines the course directors' exercise of power and its contribution to the gap between the course directors' academic expectation and first year medical students' literacy practices they employ to meet the expectation. In order to narrow the gap, the tacit nature of the academic expectation of the course directors needs to become explicit so that students are aware of the expectation and can adapt their literacy practices accordingly. This study expands the applicability of the theory of academic literacies and furthers our understanding of the nature of academic difficulty of first year medical students. Findings from this study form a basis from which to initiate change in conveying the academic expectation to first year medical students.

Subject Area

Health education|Surgery|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Rushton, Joan Maria, "Exploring the literacy practices of first year medical students as they negotiate the demands of medical school" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9970539.