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Essential Standards for MD Candidates

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MD candidates in the College of Medicine must have demonstrable abilities and skills in the areas of perception and observation, communication, motor and tactile function, cognition, and professionalism.

Therefore, admission standards for medical school must be rigorous and exacting. Acceptance can be extended only to those who are best qualified to meet the performance standards of medical school.

MD Program Essential Standards Basic Content

A broad medical education is prerequisite for good patient care and for entry into specialized postgraduate programs.

The goal of Penn State College of Medicine is to prepare students to be competent, caring physicians who have the skills necessary to incorporate contemporary, appropriate healthcare methods and knowledge into their practice, and to adapt to a changing professional environment. Essential abilities and characteristics required for completion of the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree consist of certain minimum physical and cognitive abilities and sufficient mental and emotional stability to assure that candidates for admission, promotion, and graduation are able to complete the entire course of study and participate fully in all aspects of medical training. To be qualified for health sciences programs at the College of Medicine, those individuals must be able to meet both the College’s competency-based standards and the Technical Standards, with or without reasonable accommodation.

The College of Medicine has a societal responsibility to train competent healthcare providers and scientists who demonstrate cultural competency, critical judgment, extensive knowledge, and well-honed technical skills, while considering patient safety to be paramount. As such, a candidate must have demonstrable abilities and skills in the following five categories: observation, communication, motor function, cognition, and professionalism/social and behavioral skills. The essential abilities described herein, also referred to as Technical Standards, are required for admission, retention, promotion, and graduation.

Five Key Abilities and Skills

A candidate for the MD degree must have demonstrable abilities and skills of five varieties:

  • Observation
  • Communication
  • Motor/tactile function
  • Cognition
  • Professionalism


A candidate must be able to:

  • Acquire information from and evaluate images of microorganisms and tissues in normal and pathologic states.
  • Utilize auditory perception, visual perception and somatic sensation abilities (or their functional equivalents), to observe and accurately acquire information directly from the patient, both at a distance and close at hand, to develop an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Consider written documents, pictorial images, simulators, and computer programs and videos to assimilate large volumes of technically detailed and complex information presented in large group sessions, small group discussions, individual and group learning activities, and individual clinical settings.
  • Process information through observation and respond accordingly in a manner that is consistent, rapid, accurate, and free of bias.


A candidate must be able to:

  • Communicate effectively, sensitively, and accurately with students, faculty, patients, and all members of the healthcare team.
  • Record examination and diagnostic results clearly, accurately, and efficiently.
  • Demonstrate interpersonal skills necessary to develop rapport and positive relationships with patients. Utilize empathic listening to promote openness on issues of concern and sensitivity to the patient.
  • Assess all patients to allow for appropriate, well-focused inquiry.
  • Care for and communicate with, in a non-judgmental way, patients and providers from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, types of illness, and varying cultures.

Motor/Tactile Function

A candidate must be able to:

  • Elicit information from patients by inspection, palpation, auscultation, percussion, and other diagnostic maneuvers or their functional equivalents required to perform a physical examination.
  • Execute precise and timely motor movements reasonably required to provide general care and emergency treatment to patients. This requires the coordination of both fine and gross muscular movements, equilibrium, and the use of sight, hearing, and touch, or the functional equivalents.
  • Manipulate the equipment, instruments, apparatus, or tools required to collect and interpret data appropriate to the domain of study, practice, or research.
  • Demonstrate physical stamina sufficient to complete the rigorous course of didactic and clinical study, which may include prolonged periods of sitting or standing, and/or the need to move rapidly from one location to another.


A candidate must be able to:

  • Solve problems and think critically, both independently and as part of a team, to develop appropriate products and services (e.g., a treatment plan). Synthesize information to develop and defend conclusions regarding observations and outcomes.
  • Learn through a variety of modalities including, but not limited to: classroom instruction; small group, team and collaborative activities; individual study; preparation and presentation of reports; simulations and use of computer technology.
  • Measure, calculate, reason, analyze, synthesize, memorize, organize, and transmit data concurrently in a multi-task setting wherein a candidate may experience a high level of stress, fatigue, and distraction.
  • Formulate and test hypotheses that enable effective and timely problem-solving in diagnosis and treatment of patients in a variety of clinical settings and health care systems.
  • Integrate historical, physical, social, and ancillary test data into differential diagnoses and determine the appropriate sequence of events to effect successful treatment for all patients.


A candidate must be able to:

  • Possess the emotional health required for full utilization of intellectual abilities, good judgment, and prompt completion of all responsibilities attendant to the diagnosis and care of all patients.
  • Tolerate physically taxing workloads, function effectively under stress, adapt to changing environments, display flexibility, and learn to function in the face of uncertainties inherent in the clinical environment.
  • Demonstrate compassion, integrity, non-discrimination, dedication, and honesty in interactions with both colleagues, patients and family. Relate to all patients, families, and colleagues with courtesy, maturity, and respect.
  • Maintain effective, mature, sensitive, and ethically appropriate relationships under all circumstances (e.g. clients, patients, students, faculty, staff and other professionals).
  • Self-assess their ability to function at the level necessary to provide effective and safe care of their patients and/or obtain appropriate professional assistance, should identified impairments compromise patient care and safety.

Students with Disabilities

The University’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness extends to students with disabilities. In accordance with federal law and Penn State College of Medicine policy, no qualified individual with a disability shall, on the basis of that disability, be excluded from participation in College of Medicine programs or activities.

The College of Medicine supports students with a wide range of disabilities. The College offers great resources and services available for disability support and will provide supportive solutions to reasonably accommodate students with disabilities.

The Student Advocacy Specialist is available to help navigate barriers encountered in medical school that are caused by disabilities. It is the responsibility of a candidate who seeks reasonable accommodation(s) to contact the Student Advocacy Specialist at

For additional information about disability services, and information related to disabilities, please visit College of Medicine Disabilities Services and Penn State Student Disability Resources.

Contact Us

Students with questions about components of the Minimal Essential Standards requirements can contact the Office of Student Affairs at 717-531-4398.

If you have questions about the essential standards in the MD program, please call 717-531-8755 or email