Successful development of generic capabilities in an undergraduate medical education program

H. Patrick McNeil, Helen A. Scicluna, Patrick Boyle, Michael C. Grimm, Kathryn A. Gibson, Philip D. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The development of generic capabilities or graduate attributes in communication, teamwork, critical analysis of information, problem solving and ethical practice is widely recognised as a desired outcome of higher education. This emphasis on generic capabilities has emerged despite ongoing debates about the concept and development of such capabilities. A recent review of comprehensive audits of Australian universities has found little evidence that such outcomes are being achieved. We used data from four different evaluations, both qualitative and quantitative, to explore whether these important generic capabilities are being learned by undergraduate students in the University of New South Wales (UNSW) new Medicine Program. University of New South Wales medical students are significantly more positive than other UNSW students that their university experience is developing several generic capabilities. Measurements concerning generic skills development from the Australian 2009 Learning and Teaching Performance Fund process support these findings. Analyses of qualitative data from two methodologically different student surveys found consistent evidence that medical students value generic capability development in the UNSW program. Furthermore, we report evidence that current UNSW medical students rate their clinical learning in professional placements as a significantly better experience than students in the previous discipline-based program. We believe this is a consequence of generic capability learning in the early years of the new program, such that our students are better prepared to maximise the value of learning from professional experiences. Our results represent consistent evidence of successful generic capability development as a result of a program-wide innovation in undergraduate education. To validate further our conclusions, external assessments of our graduates' generic capabilities in-action in the workplace are currently being obtained.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-539
Number of pages15
JournalHigher Education Research and Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • generic skills
  • graduate attributes
  • graduate outcomes
  • lifelong learning


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