Exams failed by all medical students at four SA universities were fairly marked, says examinations board

The surgery exams failed by most of  South Africa’s final-year students were fairly marked, the Colleges of Medicine of SA (CMSA) says.

This was shown by an international moderation process, the organisation said. The CMSA is a non-profit body which runs, sets and marks the exams for doctors and dentists to become specialists.

It faced an outcry when only 24 of 54 of the final surgery specialists-in-training passed their written exams. The pass mark was first reported as only 14 out of 46.

The entire final-year surgery class of Wits, Stellenbosch and Pretoria universities failed their final written exams.

In September, UCT students wrote a legal letter to CMSA and said they may institute a court review of the process and ask to see every script.

The CMSA asked three international organisations to check the exams and their marking, rather than using local surgeons.

The results from the Colleges of American Surgeons, the West African Colleges of Surgeons and a third body were released on Tuesday, and have shown the exam results were correct, said Flavia Senkubuge, CMSA president.

Senkubuge said there had been other classes of registrars writing their final specialist exams, where even fewer than 44% of the class passed. In some cases, less than 30% of all candidates writing exams passed.

She said the outcry had started because it was the “Ivy League universities” which had entire classes failing.

She believes part of the problem is that registrars who are becoming specialists are working so hard in academic hospitals they do not get sufficient time to study. This may explain why so many failed the academic exams.

“We are not surprised by that as their workload is enormous.”

Senkubuge said the blame for failed candidates does not only rest with the colleges of medicine.

“It’s much more complex. It is multi-factorial,” Senkubuge said.

She said a shortage of specialists in the health system meant registrars (specialists in training) were not adequately trained. Their professors did not have enough time to do sufficient teaching.

“We were in Limpopo yesterday [Monday] as part of the college listening tours across the country. Registrars are saying what they do each day [in hospitals] is not preparing them for exams.

“One registrar [not part of this exam] once told me there are parts of his life he does not remember at all,” she said, adding that this was because he had worked such long hours.

He was four years behind in doing personal administration, he had told her.

Another said he had never had “a journal club” in four years of training, which is a meeting with a professor where doctors discuss the latest medical articles and research.

“It is not that his lecturer was bad,” she said.

The registrar said the professor arrived at 5am and left work at 10pm, but the demand in clinic and theatre for treatment was so high the professor did not have sufficient time to teach students, she said.

The Citizen