Over the past decade there has been a growing recognition of the importance of effective interpersonal skills for medical and health practitioners, and hence a need to consider ability in this field when selecting students into medical and health science courses (Lumsden et al, 2005; Nicholson, 2005). ‘Understanding people’ is a component of the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT), constructed by the Australian Council for Educational Research, for the UMAT consortium of universities. This component of the test is designed to be an objective measure of candidates’ ability to understand and reason about people. This paper will provide a rationale for testing and conceptualising ‘interpersonal understanding’ as a cognitive ability rather than as a personality trait. It will address the implications of an approach that infers interpersonal ability from multiple-choice items, in contrast with approaches that rely on observation, self report or other types of performance or personality measures. The assessment of interpersonal ability is an increasingly important consideration in the medical selection process. In a high stakes environment it seems necessary to conceptualise ‘interpersonal understanding’ as a cognitive ability rather than as a personality trait in order to measure it objectively. The paper will provide data to indicate that the present method of assessing ‘Understanding people’ is robust. The assessment of interpersonal ability can provide useful information to medical schools about the extent to which candidates are able to reason about people. Further research proposals will be outlined.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jennifer_bryce/33/