Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


BMA calls for urgent review of online exam for medical students

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 27 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n253

Linked Opinion

We need to move towards a student-centred application process for foundation training

Rapid Response:

Review of UKFPO required: Unrepresentative, Uncommunicative and Uncompassionate - Re: BMA calls for urgent review of online exam for medical students

Dear Editor,

Thank you to the author for bringing attention to an issue that has caused pain and distress to the final year cohort in an already stressful time. What we have learnt from the situational judgment test (SJT) process this year is that organisations like UKFPO seem to choose to make themselves unavailable to the individuals they claim to be helping. When they only give updates from social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook, that is also a choice. When they make their only contact detail an email address/address(1), that, is also a choice.

Shall we start from the beginning? When I submitted my application on Oriel an error occurred where my first name ended up being listed as a single letter “A” instead of “Amy”. I obediently contacted UKFPO via their automated email three times, then four. I was responded to twice, with replies meagre in both word count and comprehension of my issue – the conclusion was that it was fine, and that Pearson Vue would have received my correct name. I chose to believe them. Closer to the SJT I decided this trust was misplaced, and I checked with Pearson Vue themselves – the response: “You need to get that name changed. Not through us though, through them”.

Did you know that no matter how hard you look there just isn’t a phone number for UKFPO? Many students learn this when desperately trying to get in contact with them. What followed for me was an email chain that involved my medical school and members of the foundation programme team before someone finally, thankfully, added the two letters to my forename two weeks later.

Five days on, armed with my correct full name of five letters and a matching ID card I sat down and connected with a Pearson Vue proctor, who promptly refused to let me go to the bathroom for (nearly) the next three hours. This was surprising only in that the no-bathroom period began from when the proctor could see me on-screen and not when the exam had started, leaving me and others ill-prepared. Worth highlighting in this is that these restrictions disproportionately affected both those who menstruate and individuals with disabilities or special requirements. When you consider that individuals with extra time were also not allowed to go to the bathroom, the reality simply becomes not only farcical but also discriminatory. The issues with the lack of availability both with online-proctored exams and at in-person test centres is especially difficult to comprehend considering how, the Prescribing Safety Examination allowed itself to be invigilated in person on university campuses even in March 2020(2) which continued in 2021. The decision from UKFPO to choose Pearson Vue to run the SJT instead of seasoned university staff is a perplexing one and should be challenged.

Medical students are appreciative of the developing culture of wellbeing support(3). There is however, only so much “looking after ourselves” and “asking for help” we can do; it becomes very difficult when important organisations like UKFPO are uncommunicative to pleas for help and make decisions that seem completely unfair. To many medical students the UKFPO continues to be an inaccessible group with no student or junior doctor representation. This and more needs to change in order to overhaul a group who seem to feel no compassion for medical students or future doctors. What has taken place in the last few months will not be easily forgotten by these soon-to-be foundation doctors.


1. UKFPO. Contact us - UK Foundation Programme [Internet]. UK Foundation Programme. 2021 Available from:

2. Hope D, Davids V, Bollington L, Maxwell S. Candidates undertaking (invigilated) assessment online show no differences in performance compared to those undertaking assessment offline. Medical Teacher [Internet]. 2021 [cited 12 March 2021];:1-14. Available from:

3. British Medical Association. BMA statement of expectations: Medical student wellbeing support during COVID-19 [Internet]. 2020. Available from:

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 March 2021
Amy X Li
Final Year Medical Student
Newcastle Medical School
The Medical School, Newcastle University, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH