Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine cancels all final clinical exams due to Covid-19

This precautionary measure comes as the pandemic escalates

Cambridge University medical students will not sit their two Final MB Part III clinical examinations (SCEE and OSCE) due to the worsening Covid-19 situation, they were told today.

Sixth year medical students have two sets of finals at Cambridge, written and clinical. Students already completed their written finals in December 2019, but the Clinical School has cancelled all clinical finals. These were due to be completed in April 2020.

In an email sent to medical students by Dr Diana Wood, Clinical Dean in the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, students were told: “The Covid-19 outbreak is now becoming a serious threat to public health, and as clinical medical students you are in a very special situation.  I am extremely sorry to have to inform you that your medical educational programme is about to be significantly disrupted, and that includes Final MB Part III exams.  This email is to explain our decisions about your education to you, but you should be aware that the clinical and public health situation is moving rapidly and so this advice may change.  We have deliberately taken a precautionary stance.”

The email, seen by The Tab Cambridge, goes on to point out that Dr Wood is still to receive confirmation of agreement to the actions by the University and from the GMC.

She added: “I am closely involved with the national situation through the Medical Schools’ Council and similar actions are being taken by all UK Medical Schools.  Personally, I am extremely distressed to have to, essentially, close down your clinical teaching at least for the next few weeks.  Please be assured that the Deanery Team and all the clinical teachers involved in your education will do everything possible to ensure that we deliver the best we can in these exceptional circumstances.

“We had a very long planning meeting Wednesday afternoon to decide how best to manage clinical student teaching as the Covid-19 outbreak develops. I am afraid that we have had to make some extremely difficult decisions based on the principle that students going in and out of clinical environments could be an unnecessary source of virus transmission, they may be putting their patients and themselves at greater risk and there may be too few staff available to deliver formal clinical teaching, either through pressure of work or illness.”

The email informed students that Year 6 students “should aim to finish their last final year placement, on the understanding that this might be curtailed by their teaching hospital or General Practice after discussion with the Clinical School.” The affected students will have their files reviewed “with a view to signing you off without completing a final clinical examination.”

Dr Wood added: “Clearly this is a major step, but in these exceptional times I anticipate agreement to this course of action by the GMC.” She also noted that Graduation Ceremonies and the Declaration Ceremony are under review.

Dr Laith Alexander, an MBPhD student at Cambridge, told The Tab Cambridge: “I think this is the right move. The OSCEs involve several higher risk groups – healthcare professionals (our examiners), patients (some of whom are elderly) and students. If there are cases of coronavirus in this setting, it could spread easily. As final years, we also need to start working imminently (August) so delaying the exam is not practical.”

Another medical student tweeted that “the collective mood is subdued… disbelief, relief, but also a real sense of foreboding re the gravity of #covid19″.

The email also gave the following details about teaching for other years:

Year 5.  There will be no more clinical placements/teaching after this Friday (13th March).  If you go home for your Spring holiday, you must take laptops and learning materials etc. with you as there may be travel restrictions in place by the time you are due to return.

We have real concerns about the speciality subjects covered in Y5 as they only occur once in the curriculum for each student – this is of particular issue for O&G, Paediatrics, Oncology, Infectious Diseases, Neurosciences and Psychiatry.  The Y5 teaching teams will develop alternative learning objectives and deliver as much material as possible via Zoom, webinars and online learning.  We will work out later how to deliver some additional clinical experience.

Final MB Part II (written papers plus clinical paediatrics and O&G; May/ June) We will review these in the next few weeks, depending upon national guidelines.

Electives (mid–June to mid-August) – Many of you have already had your Elective cancelled by your host institutions and we have no idea what travel restrictions may or may not be in place by the summer.  Resource poor countries will struggle to provide care for their citizens.  We suggest that for now, you don’t cancel your elective yourself, just yet, as the Insurance will pay out if the trip is cancelled by the other end, but again, this advice may change.  As things currently stand, students will not be able to design a clinical elective here for the reasons given above, but we will develop some learning activity for you online, and if things are easier in the summer, you may need to use the time to achieve clinical experience in the specialty placements.

 Year 4.  Face to face teaching for the next R&I week will not go ahead.  The material will be delivered remotely in real-time online via Zoom (a web based webinar app).  We will create a new streamlined timetable for you by the close of play on Friday 13th March and the links to the teaching sessions will be on MedEd.  You then have your Spring holiday and the same issues about taking laptops and learning materials away with you etc. apply as to Y5 students.

The clinical placements after the break are likely not to occur, and alternative remote teaching will be undertaken as for Y5 until the situation becomes clearer.

CGC Year 1. Your forthcoming clinical experience (CS-2) at West Suffolk Hospital is cancelled.  Dr White will be in touch with you to discuss the online teaching that will be available.

CGC Year 2.  Your library-based SSC will go ahead as this does not involve a clinical placement.

Two clinical students are currently undertaking self-isolation.

A University spokesperson has told the Cambridge Tab:

“In the light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the pressure this is putting on the NHS , the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine has cancelled its final clinical examinations, subject to approval from the General Medical Council (GMC). The exams would have involved students interacting with large numbers of NHS patients and they require over 200 examiners, all hospital doctors or GPs, over a two week period. The students have already completed their final written examinations and been assessed on clinical competence in previous examinations and on placements in a range of clinical environments.

“The Lent Academic Term ends on Friday and the University will continue to provide timely updates on its Coronavirus preparations to all staff and students on a dedicated page on its website.”

Cover image credit: Wikimedia Commons