We are not saying we should have passed but it is unusual for all nine of us to fail”

Eight out of nine Wits surgeons-in-training have appealed for a re-marking of their final Fellowship of the College of Surgeons (FCS) exams following an unprecedented failure rate in the results that came out on September 20.

The candidates from Wits wrote an email to The Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA), which oversees the FCS exams, demanding the required documents for appeal and requesting clarity on: “After moderation, how the college came to accept this low percentage (30%) in pass rate.

“After moderation, how the distribution of the percentage of successful candidates is concentrated to less than half of the participating institutions?

“Upon statistical analysis how it was allowed that the abnormality of this graph distribution, when compared to previous exams, was not highlighted as cause for concern.”

Out of 46 candidates from eight universities that sat for these exams, only 15 passed. University of KwaZulu-Natal and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University were the only universities to have a 100% pass rate, while Stellenbosch University had a 75% pass rate. Wits, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria, Walter Sisulu University and University of the Free State all had 100% failure rates.

Passing the FCS exams allows surgeons-in-training to be registered as specialist surgeons. However, the written exam is just a part of the exam and getting below 45% automatically disqualifies them from the oral exam.

“The main thing that prompted us [to appeal] was the irregularity of the results and a repeating pattern for [most] of the institutions,” said a candidate that wished to remain anonymous, and added, “It could be that the interpretation of the question was not appropriate, if 80% of your candidates interpreted it the same way or there was a problem in marking.”

Another Wits candidate said, “We suspect that there is something wrong somewhere, but we don’t know where. We are not saying we should have passed but it is unusual for all nine of us to fail.”

Professor Martin Smith, head of the surgery department at Wits said that the results are shocking, and he is concerned. “I don’t believe this is an accurate representation of our students.”

Head of surgery at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Professor Thifheli Luvhengo, told Wits Vuvuzela that these results were “the worst in the history of the college of the surgeons”.

He added that the Wits surgery department had to strengthen its training but also that there was a need to improve the markers’ experience.

Eight candidates from UCT and one from Stellenbosch have also lodged an appeal of the results.

In a letter to the CMSA, their lawyers wrote: “Our clients intend lodging an appeal as we hereby do on their behalf against the outcome of their examination results as provided for in terms of the appeal mechanism for written examination contemplated by section 3.1 of the CMSA Examination Policies…

“We further require you to confirm in writing…that the re-examiners to be appointed to re-mark our clients examination papers, will not be the same persons as the original examiners.”

Head of the surgery department at Walter Sisulu University, Dr Steve Molaoa, said candidates had failed before but “not to this extent”.

According to a Wits candidate, “This exam was not a hard one and we thought we could get 50% but unfortunately nobody passed. I think it was not fair to pay R12 000 and lose it for nothing.”

CMSA president Dr Flavia Senkubuge admitted to Wits Vuvuzela that, “[This semester’s] pass rate is quite low. The usual pass rate is 80%. We have reconvened our examination board for the surgeons to relook at the results again.”

All 31 candidate that failed the written exam are excluded from taking the oral exam scheduled for October 14-18.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits surgeons-in-training disagrees with the college of surgeons FCS results  Photo: Lwazi Maseko