Points required for medicine to climb even further

 

With points for medical courses set to climb, it pays to look at the statistics and the value of HPat courses, writes BRIAN MOONEY

WHAT CHANCE do you have of securing a place in one of the five medical undergraduate programmes in 2011?

Recent data compiled by UCD gives some indication of the real picture with regard to undergraduate medical entry in Ireland.

Although all students who score in excess of 480 points in their Leaving Certificate are technically eligible for a place in medicine, the reality, as shown by the figures in the table (right), is that the point requirements climbed back up to 535 in 2010.

Given the recent decision by universities to award all students who secure a minimum of a grade D3 in higher level maths an additional 25 points from 2011 onwards, I predict that the minimum Leaving Certificate score to secure a medical entry place will climb back above 550 in 2011.

The HPat test itself is scored out of 300. The maximum score achieved by applicants over the past two years of the test has been in the 220 range. The lowest HPat score to secure a place in UCD climbed from 158 in 2009 to 165 this year.

Another interesting feature of the UCD figures is the return to dominance of female candidates, after only one year of the new system. One of the concerns of many in the medical establishment, which led to the introduction of the HPat test in the first place, was the dominance of females in the old points race for medicine.

Given that many female doctors choose to balance their work commitments with rearing and caring for their children, some individuals within the medical profession and the management of the HSE have expressed concern about the desirability of having a mainly female medical service.

Their concern relates to our capacity to continue to provide the full range of GP and hospital-based services.

The figures for 2010 show that if female applicants were caught unprepared for HPat in 2009, they weren’t long in rectifying that situation. They have now, in the case of UCD at least, re-established their two-to-one ratio of success in securing undergraduate places.

DO HPat preparation courses improve the performance of applicants?

Any process which allows a candidate to practise the HPat assessment will improve performance, as the individual involved gets used to the format of the test, the types of questions covered in each of the three sections, the overall length of the assessment, etc.

It is for this reason that HPat-Ireland provides a comprehensive website, hpat-ireland.acer.edu.au, which contains sample test materials and detailed responses to candidate inquiries.

This year, candidates will have two sample test booklets available to them, which will facilitate them in taking two full mock exams if they so wish.

As the guidance counsellor in Oatlands College, in 2009 I organised a full mock HPat test for students of mine who were seeking medical places, replicating the format of the real test.

Following the completion of the paper, I went through their answers, comparing them to the correct answers in the back of the test booklet.

I discussed with students why particular answers they had not selected were the correct ones to the scenario outlined in the question.

Through this process, which I will repeat this year – and which costs the students absolutely nothing – they will be as prepared as they can possibly be for the real assessment on February 26th.

A number of Irish candidates who sat the assessment in 2009 resat it in 2010.

It has been suggested anecdotally that many of these candidates, who may have taken HPat preparation courses over the past year, greatly improved their performance in

2010.

This has led to huge pressure on cash-strapped parents to fund attendance on one or more preparation courses, which cost several hundred euro each.

Marita MacMahon Ball, general manager of higher education for ACER in Australia, the body that runs the HPat process, has responded to this issue.

“There were some resit HPat-Ireland candidates who performed better than in their first sitting and some who performed worse,” she said.

“From the blogs it is apparent that many candidates were not at all familiar with the test format, when they first sat the test. They admitted this themselves.

“For the second sitting, candidates knew that HPat-Ireland was an important part of their medical admission requirements.”

Addressing the question of the desirability of taking HPat preparation courses, Ms MacMahon Ball said: “ACER is firm in its advice not to waste money on HPat preparation courses.

“However, familiarity with the test format, test questions and test requirements is important. If a candidate has to go to a test preparation course to have read to them what is available free, or for a minimal fee, there is little that we can do about that, other than reinforce the advice we give.”