Call for more flexibility in exams

  • Date: 27 May 2011

A MORE flexible approach needs to be taken towards limits on the number of times doctors can sit postgraduate professional exams.

That’s the view from medical education organisations and professional bodies who responded to a General Medical Council consultation. Proposals to limit doctors to six attempts at passing exams such as those for royal college membership were rejected by more than half of the 100 respondents. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the BMA were both against the six-attempt limit, with less than 30 per cent supporting it.

But not all respondents were against a limit of any kind. Of the 81 respondents to answer this point, 52 per cent agreed some limit should be in place while 38 per cent opposed the idea. The majority of those responding to the consultation believed medical royal colleges, and not the GMC, should decide on any restriction. There were calls for a flexible approach that would take into account the requirements of different specialties.

The GMC consultation also raised the issue of how long exam passes should be valid, in particular when doctors apply for a certificate of completion of training (CCT). Most respondents were against the idea that only the most up to date version of an exam should count towards a CCT. They thought this could discriminate against trainees in less than full time training, those who have taken a career break and doctors undertaking research. Most said there should be flexibility regarding the validity of passes.

The GMC said: “We continue to believe that the current situation – in which there are unexplained differences of approach between specialties and when some specialties allow unlimited attempts to pass important, summative examinations – does not provide an acceptable basis for us to be sure that patients are being adequately protected.”

They added that any limits they imposed would have to be evidence-based. The GMC have invited the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges to lead discussions on the issues and will report back at the end of the year.

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