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McGill recently received a first-place ranking among Canadian universities from Maclean's survey in the "Medical/Doctoral" category, as well as an international top-50 ranking by the Times Higher Education Supplement. So people were surprised by the much higher-than-average failure rate of family medicine residents in the 2005 Collège des Médecins du Québec exams, which must be passed by anyone wishing to practice family medicine in the province.
The usual failure rate is 10 percent, but this year saw 14 out of 39 residents fail the test. "We were a little taken aback," says Dean of Faculty of Medicine Abraham Fuks. Complicating the issue was the fact that 11 of the 14 passed the exam set by the College of Family Physicians of Canada, meaning that, although they could not practice in Quebec, they were qualified to practice in the rest of Canada.
"The majority of those failing the Quebec exams had not studied here as medical students," Fuks points out. Instead, they had come to Quebec for their residency work after having graduated from medical schools outside of the province or the country. And while the content of the two exams is similar, Quebec uses a distinct methodology, drawing heavily on a pedagogical tool not found in most other Canadian institutions — the use of "standardized patients," volunteers who act the roles of patients with particular conditions.
Fortunately for the residents, these exams can be taken again. Of the 14, seven chose to brush up on their skills and redo the exams in October, with results to be released next week. Notes Fuks, "I understand that they have done very well." The problem is not expected to resurface. "We are now paying more attention to training residents in methodology," he says. "We're not unresponsive to outcomes, so we're fixing the problem."