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BMA calls for urgent review of online exam for medical students

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n253 (Published 27 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n253

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

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Re: BMA calls for urgent review of online exam for medical students

Dear Editor,

The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) is an advocacy group campaigning for the working rights of doctors and medical students. In the last six months, the DAUK Medical Student Committee have witnessed the distress and frustration of many medical students due to poor communication, technical errors, and a lack of empathy from the UK Foundation Programme Office (UKFPO). After responding to concerns and speaking out on behalf of students, we ask one important question: do the UKFPO care about student welfare?

In December 2020, a number of students reported that their SJT examinations had been prematurely and unfairly terminated due to ‘technical difficulties’. One candidate received a call from their invigilator during the exam, but their phone was not within reach (as instructed by the exam regulations) and the exam was terminated. Other students were told that toilet breaks were not permitted, creating intolerable working conditions.

It is unacceptable that technical difficulties and unclear guidance resulted in early termination of this exam. Affected candidates immediately contacted the UKFPO and Pearson Vue to discuss their situation, but subsequent communication was delayed, dismissive and unclear. One candidate described this as "the most demoralising thing that has ever happened to me in medical school".

In January 2021, the UKFPO announced that candidates would be offered resit examinations. Although the U-turn was welcomed by many, the short notice and limited flexibility as to when the resits could take place, only created further stress and anxiety for students.

As current medical students, we are concerned about how the UKFPO will manage future examinations and foundation applications. Should we accept the inevitability of technical errors and poor communication as standard? Pearson Vue hosts several postgraduate examinations, including those for medical colleges such as RCOG (1). Unless action is taken, it is likely that similar issues will continue to cause emotional turmoil for candidates.

In a time where the mental health of doctors is worsening and the rate of burnout is increasing (2), student wellbeing must be a priority. Can, at a time like this, the UKFPO afford to be treating medical students poorly? As such, the DAUK will continue to campaign for effective and visible medical student representation within the UKFPO, to improve communication and place student wellbeing at the forefront of future decision-making.

1 - The RCOG membership exam [Internet] Available from: https://home.pearsonvue.com/Clients/Royal-College-of-Obstetricians-and-G...

2 - General Medical Council. Caring for doctors, caring for patients. GMC, 2019.

Competing interests: No competing interests

03 April 2021
Anna K Sigston
Manchester medical student
Freya Rhodes
DAUK Medical student representative
UK