Justice for RACP Written Exam Candidates 2018

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The candidates that attempted or completed the RACP Written Divisional Examination on 19 Feb 2018 deserve a fair go.

The Written Exam has been an infamous source of emotional and psychological stress for physician trainees across Australia and New Zealand for decades.

The impossibly wide scope of information candidates are expected to demonstrate expertise in is intimidating. A great deal of that which is examined is the esoteric minutia of sub-specialists, and mostly clinically irrelevant to a well-rounded, altruistic, dedicated, and competent medical practitioner. 

Despite this, year after year, candidates are forced to face this examination as a 'trial by fire'; told they are unworthy of progressing in their clinical careers should they not perform to a suitable standard. This, coupled with mandatory (and enforced) proportioned candidate failure rates of approximately  30% per year, and very little transparency in expected candidates standards or demarcated curricula, makes for a harrowing and often emotionally overwhelming 12 months of preparation.

Candidates give up countless hours of personal time with their friends and families. They forgo their personal hobbies. They attend innumerable hours of unpaid, out-of-hours education, just for their 'right' to succeed in this cruel exam.

On 19 Feb 2018, the Divisional Written Examination was terminated while it was still ongoing. The cited reason was "technical error", later revealed to be a computer glitch that locked an undisclosed proportion of candidates out of the second paper.

This cruel, unprecedented, and completely unnecessary decision by the RACP has cost hundreds of candidates greatly in various ways... both financially, emotionally, and not to mention the stress and burden to the loved ones that have supported them through this journey.

The decision to simply "resit" the exam at an undisclosed date is simply inadequate compensation for those affected by this decision.

We therefore petition the RACP to respond to, or deliver on, the following points:

  1. Allow those candidates that completed one or both papers on the day to have their performance recognised. In the event of a re-sit, we deem it the most fair and ethical solution to allow the candidate to be award the higher of the two marks that they achieve for each paper. Otherwise, how will the college answer to the hundreds of candidates that turned up as asked, sat the paper fairly, paid their fees, and potentially passed, to then be forced to re-sit and face failure they didn't deserve?
  2. We wish for the RACP to explain fully - and transparently - why the decision was made to discontinue the examination. We wish to be informed of those who were involved in the decision, the actions specifically undertaken to rectify the issue before it was made, and why no other course of action was felt suitable. Presumably - in a paper based format - a number or a group of candidates being unable to sit their paper due to unforeseen circumstances at their test centre would not necessitate cancellation of the entire examination nationwide, including voiding the performance of those that have already completed it. Why was a decision made to cancel the exam, as opposed to keeping candidates in lockdown without their phones until the issue was rectified. The College's policy on 'special circumstances' clearly states that unforeseen technical error will be considered ONLY for an increased time allowed to sit the examination, but will never result in a remark... how then is it acceptable to invalidate the test for all candidates under identical circumstances?
  3. Why was a paper-based backup not available? Given this is the first year the electronic system was rolled out, surely a contingency plan would be in place in the event of unforeseen failure?
  4. A recent webinar published by the RACP, and hosted by members of the Written Examination organisational committee, had a viewer question what the college's plan would be on the day in the event of "system failure". Those responding remarked that this circumstance had been accounted for should it arise, and a rapidly executable contingency plan would rectify the issue. It was remarked that a system failure would be manageable and had been planned for in consultation with Pearson Vue. What was this contingency plan, and why did it fail here? (please see >> https://youtu.be/qIo4sVSyCqE?t=21m2s for the relevant part of the webinar in question)
  5. How will those candidates who are financially burdened by this decision be compensated? Untold numbers travelled for this exam, entirely at their own expense, and will now have to do so again, at their own expense. Many others had travel plans for after the exam with their families (including overseas travel), which will now have to be re-scheduled at great personal stress and expense. Also, co-coordinating such a large number of registrar absences at one time (nationwide) can be logistically challenging and costly for the health care service, and now huge amounts of unscheduled leave will need to be arranged, likely at the detriment of care provision. On top of that, it is no secret that the College asks impressively sizeable training and exam fees from candidates year after year, with very little tangible gain for the trainee in return, but for the privilege of handing in paperwork for another year. When you pay for something, and it isn't delivered, what do you ask the shopkeeper for? An apology?
  6. What will the College do to account for the emotional and psychological distress inflicted on candidates through this time? An e-mail acknowledging our frustrations is not enough. The College is no doubt aware of the mental toll this examination takes on candidates. How will the College ensure its duty of care to trainee wellbeing is seen to?

All those who sign this petition are asking for a response from the RACP. Without trainees, the College does not exist. The College exists to nurture, support, and strengthen the physicians of tomorrow (or so it should). 

The candidates are the victims in this situation, and the fault lies with the College. It is up to RACP to do the right thing and compensate the trainees. They deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt. They didn't ask for this.

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