Medicine, dentistry shift to pass/fail for some courses

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | June 25, 2018

Image with caption: Some courses at the College of Dentistry will be pass/fail, while most first- and second-year courses remain on a letter-grade scale. The College of Medicine has gone to pass/fail for its preclinical years (M1-2).

Some courses at the College of Dentistry will be pass/fail, while most first- and second-year courses remain on a letter-grade scale. The College of Medicine has gone to pass/fail for its preclinical years (M1-2).

The UNMC colleges of medicine and dentistry are now grading some courses as pass/fail, following a national trend that has shown increasing numbers of academic medical centers adopting this grading system in the past decade. The University of Missouri School of Medicine has employed pass/fail for 20 years.

Some courses at the College of Dentistry will be pass/fail, while most first- and second-year courses remain on a letter-grade scale. The College of Medicine has gone to pass/fail for its preclinical years (M1-2).

Janet Guthmiller, D.D.S., Ph.D., dean of the College of Dentistry, notes that pass/fail grading tends to result in a favorable impact on student wellness. It is a move in congruence with UNMC's greater emphasis on campus wellness and resiliency.

But, a survey of medical schools that have made the move, conducted by UNMC's Gary Beck Dallaghan, Ph.D., assistant dean for medical education and director, Office of Medical Education, found an equally compelling benefit of the pass/fail system, also in line with UNMC's new way of delivering health sciences education.

In addition to decreases in depression and anxiety, pass/fail also eliminated what one respondent called "grade grubbing" and another referred to as "point fishing."

Instead of rewarding "gunners" for individual achievement, the new system incentivizes collaborative teamwork.

"The pass/fail grading system reduces the competitiveness of those at the top of the class and encourages shared learning amongst students," said Gerald Moore, M.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs at UNMC.

Yun Saksena, D.M.D., dentistry's associate dean for education, said clinical "global" pass/fail courses, "place focus on patient-centered comprehensive care rather than on grades, and takes some of the stress off our students."

Scientific studies also confirmed "greater group cohesion" with pass/fail, in addition to reduced stress.

Schools in Dr. Beck Dallaghan's unscientific survey reported students doing as well as under previous grading systems, often better.

Medical school match rates appear largely unchanged -- pass/fail has become an accepted standard nationwide. All of the Ivy League schools, for example, have gone to the new grading system.

But Dr. Moore said the College of Medicine will develop a mechanism to identify those who excel at the top of the class in medical school, in order to best position students for matches and scholarships. Dr. Saksena said the College of Dentistry offers rigorous feedback within modules, and will mirror examination-agency grading scales while preparing students for licensing exams.

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Walter Johnson
July 23, 2018 at 8:33 PM

I know of several directors of graduate residencies that won't consider graduates from schools with only a pass/fail grading system.