Report says surgeons today would fail aptitude tests for college


A NUMBER of the State’s consultant surgeons would be unlikely to get into medical school today if they had to sit the recently introduced aptitude test for medical school entry, a study has found.

Researchers from the departments of surgery at the Mater and Beaumont hospitals, Dublin, organised for 222 hospital consultants, junior doctors and medical students, including some who had taken the graduate entry route into medical school, to take a modified HPAT exam like the one introduced last year for school-leavers wanting places in medicine.

The HPAT exam is designed to measure a candidate’s logical reasoning and problem-solving skills as well as non-verbal reasoning and the ability to understand the thoughts, behaviour and/or intentions of people.

In this study, the candidates sat the exam at five centres – at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin; Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; Waterford Regional Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny; and the Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin.

Junior doctors on average achieved the lowest scores and graduate entry medical students did best. These students were the only group to have previously sat an aptitude test to get into medical school.

Those behind the study, published in the latest edition of the Irish Medical Journal, say the scores achieved by consultant surgeons were surprising and suggest the HPAT exam does not measure what it purports to measure.

“We would have expected that consultants, with years of experience accrued in the clinical, research and academic fields, would have outperformed students.

“The ability to interpret data along with the more intuitive ‘wait and see’ decisions, combined with the ability to make a decision based on suboptimal knowledge and change as the situation evolves, are critical determinants in the performance of a doctor.

“There are skills gained with time and experience and would be akin to the traits purported to be tested by the aptitude tests. If a true measure of these skills, consultants should clearly have scored higher,” it says.

It adds that while it has been suggested one cannot prepare for or use grinds to improve one’s performance in the HPAT, the fact that it was those medical students who previously prepared for and sat an aptitude who did best may cast doubt over this assertion.

Two of the nine consultant surgeons who sat the exam scored six out of 12 and one got a score of five. It is “unlikely these three would have been offered a place in medical school. Clearly in our test situation, our profession would have lost . . . valuable colleagues had this been the requirement 30 years ago,” the authors state.

They conclude that while the change in the selection criteria for medical school entry is a positive step, the HPAT “is not without its flaws”.

While the sample sizes were different, with just nine consultants compared to 29 junior doctors and 105 medical students taking part, the authors say the trends found are still interesting.

Views on the HPAT vary widely. Dr Siun O’Flynn, a member of the national research group evaluating revised entry mechanisms to medicine, said earlier this year that it had resulted in a significant number of candidates getting into medicine who would not have otherwise secured places. This included candidates from lower socio-economic groups.

The exam has also restored gender balance to medical degree courses, with more males getting places in the past year.