CMSA investigation into ‘shocking’ mass failures in surgery finals

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The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) is to investigate the failure of all candidates from the universities of Wits, Cape Town, Pretoria, Walter Sisulu and Free State in the their Fellowship of the College of Surgeons (FCS) final exams, reports The Star.

The FCS exams are administered by CMSA, which is tasked with 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.

“We remain shocked at this particular result and very concerned about it,” Dr Flavia Senkubuge, president of the CMSA is quoted in the report as saying. 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 report says, 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, in a leaked recording, which The Star obtained, described the results as the worst in the history of the Wits’ surgery college. 

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

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, is quoted in The Star as saying.

The report says 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.

Racism could not have played a role in the high failure, he said. “Exam markers only see the student number on the answer sheets.”

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,”

The Star report The Star report

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