A group of trainee Intern students breached trust, says University of Otago


A group of trainee Intern students breached trust, says University of Otago

Media release from the University of Otago

The University of Otago has confirmed academic misconduct findings against a number of its Trainee Intern medical students in their sixth and final year of medical training.

Following a formal investigation, the University of Otago has written to 15 Christchurch-based Trainee Interns with findings that they have submitted reports that are misleading about their level of commitment while on overseas elective placements.
Those involved are required to resubmit accurate elective reports and to undertake additional work addressing issues of integrity. After this a case-by-case assessment will be made as to whether each student’s overall work across the 12 months of the Trainee Intern year is sufficient for a pass to be awarded.
Electives provide a twelve-week opportunity for sixth-year students to broaden their personal experience before taking up junior doctor roles. These opportunities are largely self-managed and there is flexibility around the activities that can be undertaken. Many students arrange to experience medical practice in overseas clinics and hospitals. No formal teaching or assessment is involved but students are required to submit a report describing their elective activity.

The University considers that the students exercised very poor judgment and acted unethically in doing so. As part of the normal annual process, the MB ChB Board of Censors will now consider whether the students will be able to graduate in December as planned.
Dean of the Otago Medical School Professor Barry Taylor says the University is extremely disappointed that its trust has been seriously broken and that the students involved have breached academic and ethical standards in connection with their overseas electives.

“The majority of our students have diligently completed their electives and reported honestly on them. However a number of students have exhibited very poor judgement in taking varying, but significant, amounts of time away from placement activities to travel and holiday and then not accurately reflecting this in their elective reports. In doing so they have let the School, the public, their colleagues and themselves down badly.

“Now that the misconduct investigation is complete consideration will be given to whether each student has completed sufficient work over the last twelve months to be afforded a sixth year pass. The ethical considerations that arise will also be addressed by the MB ChB Fitness to Practice Committee which can refer individuals to the Medical Council,” he says.

While students fund their own travel and other elective expenses, they receive government funding by way of a training grant paid monthly over the Trainee Intern year. The University has called for the students to make the appropriate repayment of their stipend to the government.The University is also reviewing its own processes to mitigate the possibly of this kind of misconduct from occurring again. The overseas elective placement scheme itself will be reviewed in time for the 2020 electives. The University will also look into any further possible cases if relevant information comes to hand.
“We understand the public disquiet on learning of this breach of trust, and we will take appropriate steps to prevent this happening again.” says Professor Taylor.

Background info from prior statements

The University says it acted once concerns about some elective placements became known. In June 2019 rumours surfaced that some students may not be adequately completing their elective placements, and this information was brought to the attention of the Dean of the Christchurch campus and an investigation was started. This was discussed by the Otago Medical School executive in July and the conveners’ of the sixth year or trainee intern year in all three campuses were asked to investigate and report back. This involved reviewing where students went, gathering student and supervisor reports from throughout the year and talking to relevant students. Enough evidence was gathered by September to establish the need for a formal investigation.

Background information on the grant funding paid:

Please note: The reported funding of $26,756 for each intern is an annual grant covering their training for the whole year, including within teams in New Zealand hospitals, with overseas placements forming a maximum of twelve weeks during the year.

Most medical schools have an elective component to their programme. The elective allows students to choose how and where they spend 12 weeks of work and study so they can individualise their training. Many choose to travel overseas to get experience in healthcare systems other than New Zealand’s, or places specialising in areas they are particularly interested in such as paediatrics or infectious diseases. Others choose to do research projects, while some opt to work in developing countries with need for medical professionals. If they choose an overseas placement, students pay their own fares if they travel, and are not paid by the hospitals or organisations they work for during that time. The portion of the training grant used is designed to recognise the students’ participation in teams while on these overseas placements. The 12-week elective period includes time spent travelling.