From the Irish Independent

By Dermot Kelleher
Thursday August 27 2009

THE recent debate on the mechanisms of admission to medical schools in Ireland has included a number of inaccuracies. The change in the medical school entry process arose from the recommendation in the government-commissioned Fottrell Report on Medical Education in 2006.

On foot of this, an expert group on entry into medical education, established by the Education and Science Minister, recommended combining the results of the Leaving Certificate with a new admission test. The new test would examine domains of learning which were beyond the scope of the traditional Leaving Certificate examination.

The Department of Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority then specifically requested that the University Admissions Offices and the Medical Schools consider the introduction of an additional assessment system to complement the Leaving Cert.

Following an official tender process, an educational provider — the Australian Council for Education Research, which administers similar tests in Australia and Northern Ireland — was selected to provide the Health Professions Admission Test (HPAT).

It was intended that this test would complement the Leaving Cert by assessing skills such as mental ability, reasoning, interpersonal skills, and professional attributes which lie outside the domain of the Leaving Cert. There was no intention at any level that this test, introduced at the behest of the Department of Education and Science, would introduce any form of gender bias. Indeed, this was one of the exclusion criteria in the tender process.

The Council of Deans of Faculties with Medical Schools of Ireland (CDFMSI) is firmly committed to ongoing assessment and evaluation of the mechanisms for entry to medical education to determine whether such approaches are fair and equitable, and also to ensure that any new assessment system is contributing to the development of high quality medical graduates. A simple knee-jerk response on the basis of the first-year results of HPAT and the adjusted approach to Leaving Cert scores is unlikely to be helpful as there are a range of factors, including familiarity with the process which may have contributed to some of the outcomes recently.

A research group comprising representation from the CDFMSI, admission officers, the Central Applications Office, Irish medical education experts, and international advisers has been convened for the purpose of ongoing evaluation of the entry process. This group will examine the concurrent and predictive validity of the new entry mechanisms as well as the impact on the socio-demographic composition of successful medical school entrants.

It will be particularly important to ensure that the new assessment methods enhance social equity with regard to medical school entry. In addition, it is critical that we determine that the new assessment procedures do not have a negative impact on the attainment of educational outcomes by medical students and graduates.

The medical schools are fully committed to the principles of gender equality and are concerned by perceptions that this assessment protocol was designed in any way to discriminate against female entrants to medicine. We do not believe that such a process would be acceptable or desirable for the future development of Irish medicine.

Prof Dermot Kelleher is chairman of the CDFMSI and head of School of Medicine and Vice-Provost for Medical Affairs, Trinity College Dublin

– Dermot Kelleher

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