Insufficient monitoring of medical school | Otago Daily Times News Online

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An investigation into a scam in which more than 50 would-be doctors went on vacation abroad instead of completing their internships has exposed “systematic problems” at the University of Otago’s medical school.

The report was commissioned by the university after 20% of sixth-year medical students in 2019 were surprised they did not meet the attendance requirements for internships abroad.

The panel led by Professor Emeritus Nicholas Glasgow of the Australian National University learned that there was a pervasive belief among students that insufficient attendance was common and had been so for years.

However, the university expected students to work 11 of the 12 weeks of their internship.

The most extreme cases of wrongdoing reported to the panel involved medical staff from foreign institutions encouraging absenteeism, signing their internship report on the first day of the internship.

He found that the systems in place at the university were inadequate to deal with such behavior and that the written guidelines did not have explicit attendance requirements.

Although the issue came to light in 2019, the report found that it was “very likely that less than 11 weeks of clinical internship participation actually occurred before 2019”.

Exotic stories of trips abroad and student vacation photos from previous years may have led students to believe there was unspoken encouragement to bend the rules.

He also received a statement that the option had been unchanged for 30 years.

Several system-level issues have been identified.

The program did not have an academic manager to ensure good practice, students were reliable in assessing the suitability of internships and supervisors, and there was no electronic system in place to track students or capture absences during their foreign trip.

After the students returned to New Zealand, only one of the medical school’s three clinical sites interviewed and debriefed the students.

The report also looked at whether university staff were aware of the issue before the issue came to light.

He found a previous case where a graduate confessed to a staff member years after graduation that he had not attended any part of the option and had heard from other students who had done likewise.

The staff member said he passed the information on to senior management, but understood that a decision had been made that no action could be taken.

Staff also said they spoke to students about flexibility, choice, fun and making the most of opportunities, but never with the intention of encouraging insufficient attendance.

The report states that staff members consistently reacted with shock, disbelief and a sense of betrayal when they learned of their students’ behavior.

The medical students who were arrested in 2019 undertook remedial work that included community service, additional academic work, and a personal reflection essay.

The panel heard comments that these sentences were cruel, unnecessary and punitive.

The university’s acting vice-chancellor, Professor Helen Nicholson, said the university accepts the report’s findings and needs to significantly strengthen its administration of elective courses abroad.

The university had reimbursed $ 156,000 to the Higher Education Committee in light of insufficient attendance.

The money was a refund of funds received and passed on to students as an internship grant.

Each intern receives a scholarship of $ 26,756 covering his training for the whole year, of which internships abroad form a part of up to 12 weeks.

Professor Nicholson was happy that staff members were allowed to encourage dishonesty and said there were no clinical concerns regarding the clinical competence of the students involved.

The medical school has implemented changes to address system-level issues and to monitor students abroad more closely.

A dedicated staff member had been employed to oversee the program, software was used to electronically monitor internships, and regular contact with students was required during their stay abroad.

andrew.marshall@odt.co.nz


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