The following is an announcement from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) regarding training challenges and changes caused by Covid-19.
Over the last two evenings, there have been successive QEC and RANZCO Board meetings to decide on RANZCO's response to the education challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We know that there will be an extended shutdown of normal ophthalmic services throughout Australia and New Zealand with all our energy redirected to acute services and ensuring the safety of our communities and families. It seems likely that this situation will continue for at least six months. In the meantime, all other issues become secondary, including our work in education.
RANZCO will continue to act consistently, fairly and transparently across its training program. It is in this spirit that we are giving immediate notification of the significant decisions that have been made.
RACE: Last week, the decision was made to cancel the semester one RACE OSCE scheduled in Melbourne on Thursday and Friday this week. The written results of the semester one exam have been released to candidates. It is unlikely the RACE OSCE planned for Auckland in late August will proceed. It may be possible to schedule an OSCE exam towards the end of 2020 but that will depend on where we are with the pandemic by then. The Clifton exam centres are likely to remain closed for the foreseeable future, so we are exploring the possibility of candidates sitting the semester two RACE written exam from home using an appropriately secure system.
Basic Training Exams: The remaining semester one exams (physiology and optics) have been cancelled. As with RACE, we will explore the options for semester two for pathology, physiology, optics and anatomy. COPEM 1 and 2 can continue as normal because they do not require an exam centre.
We will extend the deadlines for passing all exams by at least six months and this deadline may be extended further depending on circumstances.
We will aim to give as much notice as possible of any further exam cancellations.
We will give at least three months' notice of reinstatement or replacement exams for those that have been cancelled.
Impact on Training
RANZCO recognises and accepts the impact this crisis will have on trainees' ability to meet normal clinical and surgical volumes and experience.
While recognising that trainees will remain employed doing ophthalmic acute work and perhaps some virtual consultations, the next few months cannot provide the clinical and surgical experience appropriate for training so RANZCO has made the difficult but appropriate decision to suspend training time for the next six months. This will allow both trainees and trainers to focus on services essential to support the pandemic response.
This decision will be reviewed, and the time reduced, if there are significant service improvements before September but the evidence available suggests this is unlikely to happen. The suspension could be extended further if the crisis persists beyond September.
This decision is made reluctantly and with the full understanding of the implications for trainee progression and for bringing in new trainees for 2021. To minimise the long-term impact for those currently in training, at the discretion of the censor-in-chief, RANZCO will be open to trainees catching up on their general ophthalmology training time in appropriate general fifth year posts in Australia and New Zealand over the next few years. This means it should still be possible for most trainees to graduate when they expected to.
During the suspension, no work-based assessments or operating theatre reports will be necessary.
Term reports must be submitted for current and recently completed rotations. All Australian and NZ trainees who are currently in four-month rotations must submit work-based assessments and operating theatre reports covering the period from the start of the rotation to 31 March 2020. NZ trainees who completed three-month rotations which ended on 9 March 2020 have submitted reports for this term and are not required to submit any more reports until the suspension of training ends. Any training time completed up to and including the end date of work-based assessments and operating theatre reports will be accredited towards training time, subject to satisfactory performance.
Any trainees on the support pathway should contact Diana Russino (DRussino@ranzco.edu) at the College office for clarification of their situation.
To minimise disruption to trainees and employers, directors of training will discuss with trainees and hospitals the option of trainees remaining in their current rotation for the next six months. Rotating interstate will not be possible and continuing to rotate into different subspecialty areas at a time when the relevant experience in those specialties is not available, would be an opportunity lost and better undertaken when hospitals return to their normal work. Remaining in the same post could give both trainees and hospitals some stability at a time of great uncertainty. These decisions must take local considerations into account and will be made network by network with the trainees’ interests foremost.
We recognise that for trainees on rotation in locations away from home, this may mean more time away from loved ones. Anyone in this situation who wishes to leave that post will receive RANZCO support to do so. RANZCO understands that hospitals may be challenged if this occurs, in their on-call rotations for example, but we feel we need to act in the best interests of trainees and their families at this stressful time. DoTs and QEC Chairs in that trainee’s home network will do their best to find local employment for them, though of course this cannot be guaranteed. Any trainee who makes this decision will be able to re-enter normal rotations once the crisis is over and training resumes.
RANZCO will work with employers to try to ensure that contracts are extended to take account of these changes, both for trainees and for International Medical Graduates.
The CV and reference grading is being completed. For all but a handful of applicants who were isolated because of COVID-19, the Situational Judgement tests were successfully completed last Saturday.
The College had already accepted that the face-to-face bi-national selection mini-interviews scheduled for Melbourne in May could not occur and had developed a backup plan with video interviews using the Cliftons’ examination centres. With the closure of the examination centres, the MMIs can no longer proceed.
Given this, and the now delayed progression of our existing trainees, the selection process has been deferred for at least six months. As the year progresses, we will have a clearer idea how many positions will be available for new trainees and whether a selection round will be held later in 2020. All applicants who participated in the 2020 selection process will be given a full fee refund. Should the selection progress later this year or next, those wishing to continue will need to pay a fee then.
To assist trainees during this challenging time, RANZCO will accelerate the curriculum development process and the curation of online learning resources. The Curriculum Committee is meeting this weekend and I am confident that following this, we will be able to proceed rapidly with the redevelopment of the curriculum structure and the learning outcomes, performance criteria and milestones for each of the standards. Many of us will find we have fewer clinical commitments over the months ahead and I would be grateful if you could channel your time and talents into helping us with this project.
For QEC, the RANZCO education team and the Board, the decisions outlined above have been extremely difficult. We understand that trainees will be disappointed that their training will be adversely affected for a while, but we hope that most will be able to catch up in the years ahead.
The impact will also be felt by those who were hoping to join our specialty in 2021. We are unable to predict how long the selection delay will last but even the planned delay of six months will be upsetting and will have workforce implications for the years ahead.
Despite all this, we believe the right decisions have been made to deal with an extraordinary situation. We hope that by making them early, we will provide clarity to everyone affected and allow you to focus on getting through the pandemic. We ask you to support these outcomes as best as you can, and we look forward to the time when we can resume normal training.
Until then, please stay safe, take care of yourself and your families, and do what you can as doctors to support our health systems through this unprecedented crisis.
Justin Mora, FRANZCO