Stop the GP Exam Blunder Down Under!

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The doctors affected by the RACGP written exam system failure deserve a fair go!

To all aggrieved, affected and interested parties,

The recent cancellation of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) fellowship examinations, scheduled to take place on the 9th and 10th of October 2020, has served as the final blow when it comes to the mishandling of a 1300-strong cohort of doctors by an Australian medical college during the already challenging year of the COVID19 pandemic.

Fellowship exams for doctors are a well-recognised source of stress and sacrifice across all medical specialties, including General Practice. Candidates are expected to give up countless hours over several months (and in many cases years) in preparing for these exams, whilst simultaneously juggling their professional duties to their local communities as valued GPs and sacrificing important family commitments.

As a result of the cancellation, many affected doctors will not be able to return to serve their communities for an unknown length of time, as the RACGP scrambles to come up with a solution to this debacle. This is wholly unacceptable given that Australia is in the midst of a global pandemic and general practitioners are on the frontline, and many GP practices and rural communities are currently short-staffed.

The college has had several months to prepare for this event, with the 2020 written exams originally due to be held in July 2020, only to then be delayed to October to allow for preparation of a new examination platform. In a written statement on 7th October, the RACGP assured all candidates that they had taken significant remedial action following the multitude of failures which were identified during the trial run of exams held on the new platform on the 26th and 27th of September. The RACGP was advised explicitly of the many issues with the trial exam.

However, to date, the college has failed to deliver on its duty to provide an appropriate examination platform in order to grant this year’s cohort of doctors the chance to attain fellowship, despite several additional months of preparations and a total of $4,660 AUD per candidate. Despite over $8 million received in exam fees during the previous financial year, the RACGP have opted to cut costs by outsourcing to an overseas-based examination and proctoring platform that has failed during both the trial examinations in September, and the high-stakes fellowship examination on the 9th October 2020.

Prior to the Key Feature Problem (KFP) fellowship exam server crashing on October 9th within minutes of the exam commencing, many candidates reported substandard interactions with their proctors. For example a) being reprimanded for starting their exam at the wrong time as it was meant to be “at 12pm Australia time”, b) being called “Sir” as female doctors, c) receiving messages from proctors that were so nonsensical that they were unable to be understood, including phrases such as “wate a lonch botto”, “soory sever isshu”, and “kingg pokas on the camera”. Serious concerns about the proctors engaged by RACGP were raised by candidates on 28th September after the trial exams. The RACGP responded on the 7th of October, stating that they had “re-trained our proctors to improve quality and consistency”, and “removed  those proctors who didn’t meet our high standards”.

Shockingly, more than 1000 doctors sat in anguish for hours when the server error ultimately affected all candidates as the exam was shut down, with minimal communication from the college as to what was happening. Hundreds of candidates made multiple unanswered calls to the provided technical support numbers, and even the “in case of emergency” RACGP number simply rang out. The only sources of communication from the college were several automated SMS messages, and generic posts on the racgp.org.au website. Many people did not access their phones or external websites for hours, in fear of being disqualified from the exams. After the first server crash the KFP exam was still to go ahead, but at a later time the same day. Some candidates remained waiting under exam conditions for many hours. However as the day progressed, it became clear that the issues were too major to fix in such a short time-frame, and candidates were informed that the entire KFP exam was cancelled. Later again on Friday evening, the RACGP decided to also cancel the Applied Knowledge Test (AKT) that was scheduled for the following day. To date, candidates have not yet received any further official updates. Their lives, families, careers and finances remain on hold.

The wide-reaching implications of this gross mishandling of the RACGP 2020.2 cohort of examinations is unacceptable. As a group of doctors, colleagues and dedicated members of our communities we urge you to support us in the following demands to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Please be assured that we will be working as a collective to ensure all candidates have fair and independent legal representation to unanimously support us in the following demands:

1.     Full refund of exam fees

We seek full reimbursement of $4,660 AUD for the exam fees paid for this exam cycle (or $2,330 AUD for those enrolled to sit only one of the written exams).

Following a similar incident, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) set a precedent during the 2018 exam cycle with registrars being fully refunded their exam fees with no further charges to candidates incurred.

2.     Provision of paid study leave

In line with other accredited Australian medical colleges, we seek that the RACGP grants all registrars at least two weeks of paid study leave which can be applied prospectively or retrospectively. The study leave must not extend total training time. It is unacceptable that doctors in training for General Practice have to sacrifice their annual leave, or financially compromise themselves and their respective practices by taking unpaid leave in order to adequately prepare to sit these exams.

3.      Provision of paid exam leave

In addition to a lack of study leave, RACGP candidates are not treated in line with our other medical specialist colleges in Australia who provide their trainees with paid exam leave. It is unacceptable that GP trainees continue to be unfairly disadvantaged.

4.     Flexible and fair examination alternatives

Given the all-encompassing distress inflicted on candidates through the multitude of failures by the current examination platform outlined above, many candidates feel unable to re-sit the assessment in the current format. Trainees are seeking an alternative appraisal of their clinical competencies, namely in the form of a workplace-based assessment by our accredited GP supervisors, Regional Training Organisations and other accredited training platforms. This form of assessment has been used by multiple colleges who provide medical training in Australia with high success rates and is a reliable and cost-effective alternative to the online exam platform. However, candidates who wish to take their chances again with the KFP/AKT or submit their trial examination results should also be given the opportunity to do so as a non-mandatory assessment option.

5.     Compensation of exam related expenses

Candidates personally incur significant financial costs in addition to the examination fees for three separate exams each year. Many candidates had to purchase new computers and high-speed internet plans to comply with the technical requirements of the new online proctored exam, arrange childcare for all affected days, and pay for accommodation expenses etc. The cumulative financial burden on candidates needs to be compensated in accordance with their individual expenses as a result of this failed exam attempt.

6.     Written exams from the 2020.2 exam cycle will not count towards maximum number of exam attempts

Due to the widespread adverse consequences from these disruptions, any attempts made by candidates with relation to this written exam cycle should not be considered as one of a candidate’s three attempts to gain fellowship.

7.     Remove the requirement to complete written exams before allowing candidates to enroll for the Remote Clinical Examination

Candidates request that the college ensures there are no further delays to the progress of their training and are able to enroll into the Remote Clinical Examination (RCE) independent of their written examination status.  

To read a collection of personal stories of those affected please visit the following links: 

Personal Victim Statements

Screenshots

If you have also been affected by the RACGP exam system failure and would like to add your story, please send your statement to gpregistrars1@yahoo.com. You will remain anonymous.

All media and legal aid contacts are directed to gpregistrars1@yahoo.com

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