2020 has been a difficult year for many across the world. The rapid spread of the coronavirus has led to the loss of lives and livelihoods, the closing of borders and organizations, and to a dramatic shift in lifestyle. As public health authorities issue stringent restrictions to curb the spread, organizations have had no choice but to evolve with them in order to continue offering the goods and services that the population relies on.
As an essential service, the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) has adapted many of its operations in order to ensure the continued assessment of medical students and graduates in Canada and internationally. In a time of public health crisis, the need for competent physicians is even greater, and Canadians expect that the robust standards of care continue to be met.
The abrupt onset of the pandemic in Canada led to the difficult decision of postponing two examinations in the spring, the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) Part I and the MCCQE Part II. However, it was clear that the assessment of medical students and graduates would need to resume as soon as possible, in order to ensure the continued licensure of trained physicians and thus the entry of new physicians into practice.
The postponement of our exams due to COVID-19 in the spring presented an opportunity to innovate, and that is what we have endeavoured to do. With minimal availability of test centres during the initial phase of the pandemic due to public health restrictions, we worked with our partner in exam administration, Prometric, to launch a remote proctored option for the MCCQE Part I to enable candidates to move along the route to licensure while staying at home. Unfortunately, during the first month of this novel delivery model, candidates experienced several technical difficulties, largely linked to internet connectivity issues. While some connectivity issues persisted throughout the exam session, we worked with Prometric to resolve the majority of the technical issues experienced. To date, over 3,000 candidates have completed the exam and only three percent of those candidates have had to reschedule their exams.
As the pandemic’s curve of transmission began to flatten and public health recommendations for use of indoor public space became more robust, Prometric was able to open seats in more and more test centres, offering MCCQE Part I candidates the choice of taking the exam in person.
The MCC and Prometric have put into place robust policies on physical distancing and personal protective measures for test centres. The MCC thus decided to pursue the postponed administration of the MCCQE Part II as well as to offer the National Assessment Collaboration Examination, both Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs), requiring the physical presence of candidates in exam centres. Procedures have been modified in order to minimize risk and prioritize the safety of all involved in the exams. Measures include mandatory masks and physical distancing, availability of hand sanitizer, and restrictions on candidate, examiner and standardized participant interactions.
We are pleased that in-person exams will continue to be administered this fall, in accordance with local and international public health guidelines. The MCC is closely monitoring the pandemic, and is ready to act quickly, should the situation evolve to pose undue risk to candidate and staff health and safety.
It has been a challenging six months. However, as our new normal becomes just that – normal – we are adapting medical assessments to the pandemic context, looking at future assessments with the lessons we have learned and ensuring a regular flow of licensed physicians for the continued safety of patients in Canada.