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

Surgeons exam was not difficult, an average doctor could pass it - examiner

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Oct 2, 2019

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Johannesburg - An examiner involved in the spectacularly-failed test by all would-be professional surgeons from five universities has defended the question paper, saying it was not even difficult.

“Take it from me, the paper is not too difficult for people to pass. It is a standard paper that I believe most people should have passed,” Professor Jay Pillai, a vascular surgeon at the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre, has told The Star.

“Believe me, I’ve looked at the question paper and I’m involved with (setting) questions, they were not something that’s out of this world and that an average doctor cannot pass.

“I spoke to a few registrars from those universities and they were all saying some (questions) were difficult, but I don’t believe that for one minute,” Pillai said.

The pass mark was 50%, and students who obtain 45% were still allowed to proceed to the final round of exams, Pillai said.

He was reacting to reports that irregularities in the question paper may have caused final-year students from Wits University, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, Walter Sisulu University and University of the Free State to fail the Fellowship of the College of Surgeons (FCS) exit exam.

The FCS exams are administered by the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA). Eight universities sent 46 surgeon students for this exam.

Only candidates from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University and Stellenbosch University passed the exam, a mere 44% pass rate.

Some of the academics from institutions with all failed students have cried foul, even going as far as alleging racism and paper leaks.

Dr Flavia Senkubuge, president of the CMSA, revealed that an investigation will be launched to look into the matter. He had earlier said the results were shocking.

In an interview with The Star, Pillai rejected the allegations of irregularities.

“I know the individuals in the exam board. To say that somebody leaked a paper and to blame the college, which is doing a lot of work, is just not on,” Pillai said.

Racism could not have played a role in the high failure, he said.

“Exam markers only see the student number on the answer sheets. They can’t see a face behind the number. If there is an issue around racism then that needs to be investigated. But again, we need facts.”

It was not the first time that the failure rate was high, Pillai revealed.

“About 45% failed the last time. Over the last three years, there has been a high failure rate. The paper was remarked. We were a little lenient on them and we decided to pass a few more,” he said.

Pillai said the CMSA investigation should focus on a broad range of issues.

“We need to look at the calibre of the students. There may be some problems in the way they are trained. Students’ preparation levels should be looked into as well. We need to look into whether they are overworked in the hospitals with shortage of staff .

“That is a national problem. Instead of doing one call a week (at hospitals), some of the surgeons are doing five calls a week. So, they don’t have enough time to study,” Pillai said.

“Then you should look at the interest levels. Are people putting in the effort that’s required?”

The Star

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