Picture: Louis Bauer/Pexels
Picture: Louis Bauer/Pexels

Row as surgeon students from five universities fail exam

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Sep 30, 2019

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Johannesburg - An investigation will be launched to look into whether there was anything irregular in the common final examination that has been “shockingly” failed by all would-be surgeons from five universities. 

All candidates from Wits University, University of Cape Town (UCT), University of Pretoria, Walter Sisulu University and University of the Free State who received their Fellowship of the College of Surgeons (FCS) exam results a week ago failed.

The FCS exams are administered by the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA), which ensures that universities produce quality medical graduates.

Only candidates from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) and Stellenbosch University (SU) passed the exams.

Out of 46 candidates from eight universities that wrote the FCS, only 15 passed. The 10 candidates from UKZN all passed and so did the two from SMU, while three from SU obtained the pass mark.

The 31 failed candidates won’t be invited to the oral exam to be held between 14 and 18 October. This is the ultimate step to becoming a professional surgeon. 

“We remain shocked at this particular result and very concerned about it,” Dr Flavia Senkubuge, president of the CMSA told The Star yesterday.

“We usually have round about 80% and above pass rate for the college of surgery for the written examination. This time around we had a 44% pass rate,” Senkubuge said.

She revealed an internal moderation found the results to be correct. An external moderation was now being done by international surgery experts. 

“What we’re going to institute is a full investigation into the exams. The idea of the full investigation is not just to look at an exam itself. It’s to look at things much broader.”

But the probe plans have preceded by a row that has included allegations of question paper leaks, racism and that the FCS was structurally flawed.

Professor Thifheli Luvhengo, clinical head of Wits’ department of surgery, spoke about what he said were structural problems with the FCS at a meeting between the CMSA and academics.

In a leaked recording, which The Star obtained, Luvhengo described the results as the worst in the history of the Wits’ surgery college. 

“The reason why people who have been in the system are failing after five years of training has nothing to do with their incompetence,” he told the meeting chaired by Senkubuge.  

“You are emphasising so much on the theoretical knowledge testing for highly technical specialties. 

“(Also) these kids must go to that college exam with some form of year mark. 

“That’s what we have decided to do at Wits. When they go for the final (internal) one 60% is coming from what they’ve been doing throughout the year.

“You go to this (FCS) college that hasn’t trained you with zero mark and you get somebody who has inherited hatred for black people (assessing you). What do we expect?” Luvhengo asked.

At UCT, head of general surgery professor Elmi Muller asked professor Elelwani Ramugondo, dean for postgraduate education, to intervene in the matter.

Muller said UCT has a strong surgery program and most of its students usually passed the FCS exam.

“We are concerned that the paper was leaked,” Muller said in her letter to Ramugondo.

“I am very concerned about the impact that this exam’s results will have on the individuals concerned. There was clearly a problem with this exam.”

Senkubuge said the upcoming probe will look into the leak allegations. “The colleagues who are speaking to you should be able to bring any knowledge of any leak that they might suspect.

“They can also come and make submissions to the investigation. It will be transparent,” she said.

In the meeting with academics, Senkubuge rebuffed Luvhengo’s assertions that were elements of racism. “I want to debunk this myth that people are failing,” she said.

“What is true is that indeed African males are failing more than each and every single other person. 

“So, we ask them - because we saw them in the listening tours - ‘what is happening’? Are they not passing the college because there’s something else that’s underlying? 

“Many of them were quite candid and they said, ‘listen doctor Senkubuge the reason why we’re failing is because we’re trying to take care of our families. We’re never there (for preparations). We’re R1 (surgeries) and that’.

“It is not true that you have foreign people passing and South Africans are not passing,” said Senkubuge.

The South African Registrars' Association (SARA), a special interest group, has urged to CMSA to dump its policy that prohibited result appeals before the oral exams. 

“SARA's stance remains that the current CMSA Appeals Policy whereby the remarking of scripts only occurs after oral examinations is unfair on those candidates who may succeed after their scripts are remarked. 

“SARA believes this policy must change. Vorster advised SARA to make a submission to the CMSA Senate to request this policy change. 

“SARA leadership has heeded this advice and will, accordingly, make this submission.”

Senkubuge said SARA’s recommendation sounded valid. “I think that’s a fair recommendation. It has to be looked into.”


The Star

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