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Canadian doctors 'desperately' want exams to go ahead amid potential COVID-19 delays

Last Updated Mar 12, 2020 at 3:37 pm PDT

FILE - Doctors of BC says the use of visits over the phone or by video-conference limit in-person contact with patients during the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Pexels: Anna Shvets)

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada should explore alternatives to in-person oral exams: petition

A delay in testing could keep doctors from responding to COVID-19 and getting on with their lives: doctor

Doctors 'desperately want this exam to go ahead as scheduled'

EDMONTON (NEWS 1130) – A potential delay in testing could keep doctors from practising where they are most needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one Edmonton physician. 

Dr. Dylan Hoare, currently practising at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, created an online petition calling on the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada to make sure doctors can take their exams this year and get on with their lives.

Testing delays would disrupt the lives of doctors who have prepared tirelessly for their exams, and could keep some of them from leaving their teaching hospitals for rural areas that may need doctors to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, he said.

Many new doctors have planned pregnancies, fellowships and office leases around the expected completion of their residencies, Hoare said.

“They desperately want this exam to go ahead as scheduled,” Hoare said. “They don’t want to impede or interfere with this public health safety but they definitely want to proceed as planned with this exam so they can just move on with their lives.”

As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had more than 1,300 had signatures.

Royal College administers final exams for doctors from across Canada completing residencies in Ottawa each year.

While many major events and conferences have been cancelled across Canada and the world amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, the college said Wednesday it intends to go ahead with the annual testing.

Doctors who cannot attend their exam due to self-isolation and other COVID-19 related restrictions can defer it to the next sitting, the college said on Twitter. 

In an email sent to residents Wednesday, Royal College said it would provide provisional registration or extend educational licenses to allow residents to keep practising if the exams scheduled for this spring are cancelled or postponed. Exams are scheduled to take place starting this month through April, when family doctors, representing a majority of residents, are set to take their final tests.  

“This is an evolving situation,” the email obtained by NEWS 1130 said.

A Royal College spokesperson declined an interview request, but provided a short statement to NEWS 1130 on Thursday.

“We’ve received feedback from residents and our members about our message yesterday. Residents’ safety is our top priority. We are exploring alternative options for our exams,” Melissa Nisbett said in an email. 

Hoare, completing his fifth year in a urology residency, said he was concerned the college’s contingency plan appears to involve delaying the exams, rather than exploring other options.

If in-person exams are cancelled, Hoare said he hopes the college finds “more reasonable” solutions such as doing oral exams via video conferencing or allowing residency training programs to administer the tests.

If neither alternative is possible, he said, residents should be exempted from the oral portion of their exams.