Specialists. Together. That’s the slogan of the RACP (Royal Australasian College of Physicians), proclaimed across its website. Yet this sense of community and caring was profoundly missing this year on February 19th. Hundreds of doctors were left isolated without support and distressed without relief when their make-or-break Basic Training exam was abruptly cancelled after a multitude of technical failures.
This was the first year the exam was being delivered online in multiple centres across Australia and New Zealand, instead of the traditional paper format at central locations in each state. It is astounding that no contingency plan was in place by the RACP, when technology has shown its unreliability. Even more pertinently, the company contracted to deliver the exam, Pearson VUE, has track record of failures so high it’s been lampooned by comedian John Oliver. To place it in perspective, this is a 6-hour gruelling exam with a break halfway through, which registrars have been studying hours every week for on top of their full-time jobs, sacrificing their lives, interests and family.
Some may say surely what’s the fuss, the reschedule fixed the problem? Wrong. Doctors planned hard-earned vacations around this exam, they planned their caesareans and hospitals planned relief cover for these doctors as they sat this. The more one hears about details from the exam day – no representatives from the RACP at many centres, some doctors told to sit the exam without break when their timer broke, doctors cooped in the centre without any news – the more one is stunned at the monumental size of failure.
The RACP may have rescheduled exam and reimbursed trainees their $2000 exam fee, but it needs to display a greater commitment towards doctors’ health. Technology is not the mistake here; it’s an innovation that is powerful when used effectively. The mistake is the failure to display the tenets of effective planning and communication – ironically the very foundations of being a good doctor.