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High fail rate raises training doubts

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Assessment standards for aspiring psychiatrists are under scrutiny after less than a quarter of trainees passed a new written test.

AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis has written to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists urging it to review new training and assessment arrangements after just 23 per cent of psychiatry trainees undertaking the Modified Essay Question Written Exam in August last year were awarded a pass mark.

Dr Parnis told the College the AMA had been contacted by several trainees who were “very distressed”, and had expressed significant concerns about very low pass rates for the first two groups of students sitting exams under the competency-based training program introduced in 2012.

“I understand this pass rate is much lower than experienced under the former training program,” Dr Parnis wrote, noting widespread concern among trainees that they had received insufficient support in meeting the new assessment standards, and questioning whether the exams had been “appropriately calibrated”.

“With any major overhaul of a training program, the AMA believes that it is very important for colleges to be sensitive to emerging issues, and seek to address them as a matter of urgency,” the AMA Vice President said.

Trainees complained that supervisors and Directors of Training appeared unsure about the appropriate time to sit exams, what the newly-imposed standard of ‘junior consultant’ might mean in practice, and how they should prepare differently when re-sitting an exam.

Dr Parnis also expressed concern that the College had set tight limits on the number of times a trainee can sit the exams, with those who fail to meet these requirements being asked to show cause.

“This can be incredibly stressful in the best of circumstances, and it would be most unfair on the initial cohort of trainees if they were subject to these rules and it is [subsequently] shown that there are inherent problems in assessment processes,” he said.

Dr Parnis said the AMA was generally supportive of the College’s move toward a competency-based training framework, and had been reassured by the involvement of trainee representatives in monitoring and advising on the changes.

But the experience of the trainees showed the new arrangements needed to be reviewed, he said.

“While it is obviously early days for the new assessment arrangements, the low pass rates appear to warrant further consideration and potential remedial action.”

Adrian Rollins